Newspaper troubles (again)

While Mick toils manfully in the booming blogosphere, I get more and more worried about newspapers. In the UK and Ireland, crisis point hasn’t yet been reached. But in the US, it’s arrived. The fine old Christian Science Monitor (its quality belied its title) has just folded, I’m shocked to learn. Johann Hari in the beleaguered Indy is right.

If (newspapers) vanish, blogs will be left in an airless cabin, talking only about themselves.

Hari steers clear of washing his own group’s dirty linen and draws attention to the medium-term plight of the business’s Titanic, the New York Times. What are the survival strategies, if any?

From Johann Hari.

Many people in the increasingly frantic newspaper industry whisper about potential techno-solutions. Some say an easy system of online micro-payments – an i-Tunes for the news – will save us. Others invest hope in the Kindle, the hand-held device on which you can buy a newspaper. But we can’t afford to wait for them to go mainstream: journalism’s accumulated structures, brands and wisdom could be lost forever by then.

There is a better way. In an age of bailouts, several European governments are experimenting with ways to support the world of news-gathering so it will survive for the 21st century. The best plan has come from French President Nicolas Sarkozy. He has launched a programme where every French citizen, on her 18th birthday, will be given a year’s free subscription to a newspaper of her choice.

I’m sceptical about these panaceas. Hari is a young guy who is pretty anti-commerce. Yet the obvious route is amalgamation with the IT giants of capitalism Microsoft have spluttered denials about taking over the New York Times.. Not so long ago, the NYT could have bought Google. Maybe the roles will be reversed and Google will take over the NYT?

  • Paddy McEvoy
  • Jason Walsh

    I can assure you, Brian, that reports of the Monitor’s death are greatly exaggerated. The daily paper ceases production next Friday but the “newspaper” will live on on the web as a rolling-news site and as a weekly magazine.

  • Jason Walsh

    I should say, I know the CSM isn’t dead because I was reporting for it last week.

  • Brian Walker

    Jason – Glad to hear it and glad that a CSM contributor reads Slugger. Still, the end of daily newspaper production is grim

  • Don’t I know it….but for some communities, the web is a viable way forward. And I’m glad to see that it’s now proposed to launch a digital news service online as Gaeilge – a little over a year after I proposed such a way forward out of the travails of newspaper production for Lá Nua…..

  • Jason Walsh

    Hi Brian, yes, the end of daily production is unfortunate. Thankfully, in the CSM’s case it seems to be planned whereas the Seattle PI just turned-off the presses.

    It will be interesting to see what happens with the Monitor. Last year it was underwritten to the tune of $13m by its owner. Obviously this can’t go on forever. Also, the CSPS too some bad hits in the 1990s over MonitoRadio and Monitor Television (both now defunct). The editor gave an interview late last year saying the intention was to make the Monitor self-supporting.

    The CSM hasn’t been available as a daily for some time outside the US (and possibly Canada, I’m not 100 per cent sure), instead there was a weekly World Edition, much like the Guardian Weekly – but different enough: I read that the CSPS admits the new weekly mag is not a “future-oriented product” (or whatever the business-speak is this week) but it won’t just be a recycling job. Instead of being filled with Montior reports, it will feature longform background pieces. When combined with the rolling-news website this might just work (as journalism, I have no idea about the economics).

    Tough times for newspapers. I’ll never give up on print copies but, then again, I wouldn’t give up on the web either.

  • Rory Carr

    Johann Hari was most prescient about some of the reasons at least behind the failure of some sectors within the newspaper industry when he wrote, in the Imdependent, on 14 January:

    ” Social scientists at the London School of Economics wanted to discover why Britain’s productivity was so much lower than many rivals, and they found that the biggest single cause was our large number of family-run businesses. By definition, these businesses do not seek out the best person, they simply hand them to their kids.”

    Let us hope, for Hari’s sake, that his cheerful trumpeting of this conclusion does not come to the attention of his new boss, Mr Gavin O’Reilly, who on 13 March, it was announced by the board of Independent News and Media plc, was to succeed his …er, father, Sir Anthony, as chief executive officer.

  • Jason Walsh

    No love for the Bean Baron here but his vanity kept the Indie alive. Whether or not his son will want to own a British national daily just for the prestige is an open question.

    It would be ironic if the (generally) democratising effect of the internet was to force newspapers back into the hands of arrogant billionaires.

  • Brian Walker

    Paddy O’R – Thanks for the link- a poetically written analysis but no prescription i fear. Con, I wonder how viable the web really is for some communities without paid-for original newsgathering – even language communities? Rory, Jason, I wouldn’t knock O’Reilly too much, as they come, he was quite an idealist among tycoons. I suspect Gavin is not the real power his father was. The basic trouble with newspapers is that few were ever profitable whatever the business model and the web is tipping them over the edge. They were always love children and may become so again. Web business might save them in amended form; the synergies are obvious. But as ever, serious profits will have to be made elsewhere.

  • Rory Carr

    “…back into the hands of arrogant billionaires”, Jason? I didn’t know that Lord Copper (of the Daily Beast) had ever really left us. The new form that he takes, in London at least, as proprietor of the Evening Standard is that of a Russian oligarch, Alexander Lebedev, who snatched London’s esteemeed evening paper from the Mail group for a quid! But then, as a former KGB officer, we can be sure he knows how to drive a hard bargain.

  • Eddie

    Don’t worry – the Belfast Telegraph is going “compact” next Wednesday and is trumpeting its wares in the paper.

    Big question: if that doesn’t work – where do they go from there? How about more quality journalism? Or less Beano-like design?

  • Jason Walsh

    Shareholders, and they’ve done a worse job than Lord Copper. They loved mega profits but don’t much like slim profits (as in the US) or losses as in Europe.

  • Comrade Stalin

    The Belfast Telegraph is quite useful if you need to slaver on a daily basis over titillating pictures of lovely girls in bikinis.

  • Jason Walsh

    “Rory, Jason, I wouldn’t knock O’Reilly too much, as they come, he was quite an idealist among tycoons. I suspect Gavin is not the real power his father was.”

    Brian, that’s (basically) my point. It’s a sad day when we have to look for the rich to pay for loss-making newspapers but it’s probably better than PLCs just killing them off because they’re not turning a profit.