Back in June I used this column to question if there will be a daily newspaper in our future. Last week, our neighbors in Syracuse learned the answer to that question the hard way concerning the future of The Post-Standard.
Newhouse Newspapers, who announced in June that it would stop printing the daily paper The New Orleans Times-Picayune and its Alabama newspapers in Mobile and Birmingham, said last week it would end the daily distribution of two more of its newspapers, The Post-Standard in Syracuse and The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa.
Both papers will begin merging their content with their local news web sites, syracuse.com and pennlive.com, while delivering the printed newspaper only three days a week. Starting in January, The Post-Standard will publish only on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday.
The news prompted hundreds of comments by readers on both web sites, who expressed their concern about life without a local, seven-day-a-week newspaper. One such note said: “We grew up with the paper, and Dad reading us the Funnies every Sunday. Every Christmas, Dad also read us the famous response that Francis Parcellus Church of the NY Sun wrote to little 8-yr. old Virginia Hanlon: ‘YES, VIRGINIA, THERE IS A SANTA CLAUS. He exists as certainly as love and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas, how dreary would be the world if there were No Santa Claus. This news feels like ‘NO SANTA CLAUS’... another tradition gone.”
Another person commented: “As we bemoan the death of the daily paper, brace yourselves for what is certain to be a very painful round of layoffs. I suspect we are going to lose some of our favorite columnists and reporters in the name of cost-reduction. I know I wrote this yesterday, but in New Orleans they cut 49 percent of the newsroom and in Birmingham, 60 percent. This does not bode well for the more senior staffers.”
A newspaper is more than words printed on a page. Newspapers were created to serve a purpose, and that purpose was not to be a cash cow. On the contrary, the newspaper is the cheerleader, the whistle blower, the watchdog and the major economic booster for a community and the region it serves. Despite the popular belief that newspapers can’t compete with today’s technology, the simple truth is this move isn’t really about competition or technology. If the primary mission of a newspaper is to inform the community, the method by which the news is distributed shouldn’t leave people in the dark, nor should it be an excuse to cut expenses and jobs.
If those five newspapers were locally owned by an active member of the community, someone who was a professional newspaper publisher, we would not be seeing this same solution to the perceived problem in five different areas. This action to remake their news delivery method is an attempt by senior management to keep more money for their shareholders, and the community will just have to live with the disappointment of less access.
Consider some basic numbers: At a blended rate of 65 cents per edition, and an average of 70,000 copies per day, the Post Standard will lose $45,500 per day in circulation revenue for the four days per week they will stop delivering. That is $182,000 per week and $9.464 million per year, assuming they don’t raise the price, which they most certainly will. That number doesn't even take into account the tens of millions of dollars in advertising revenue they will lose in making this transition. Jobs will certainly be lost, and Central New York and the Capital Region of Pennsylvania will suffer as a result. Under a local family ownership, the needs of these communities would have been better addressed because they would have listened to their readers, community leaders and advertisers. The solution would not have come from a board room, but from the community.
The auto industry leadership at one time was so arrogant they felt they could produce substandard vehicles. They learned a hard lesson: If they don’t provide an outstanding car for the American public, someone else will. Hence we have an American car industry now trying to play catch-up with foreign manufacturers. In time the newspaper publishing industry will come to its senses and realize if they produce a better product, in keeping with the wishes of their customers, circulation and profits will follow.
One last comment from a wise Post-Standard reader: “Why pay $1 per day for something that you can leisurely read on your patio when you can spend several hundred dollars every couple years chasing the newest technology so that you can become one of the zombies I see everywhere glued to their smartphone, Ipad, etc. instead of making personal connections by actually talking to people? The newest trend I have been observing is seeing parents (mostly moms) taking walks or sitting in the park incessantly texting instead of conversing with their young children. Technology is good but not every aspect of it is. We have raised a generation of college kids who have trouble conversing yet can bang out 10k texts per month or tweet well into the early morning thereby contributing to bad sleep habits that contribute to the obesity epidemic. For the record, I have a smartphone, IPad, and laptop so I am not a technophobe. I merely am one who uses it to "add value" to my life, not overtake it.”
Dan Alexander is publisher and CEO of Denton Publications. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.