Monday, February 18, 2008

Newspapers going out of Business?

It's Monday, which means today's News-Sentinel will include a standalone Business section. If recent months are any indication, however, there's a good chance that Business Monday will include very little--if any--local stories. Aside from the usual recap of who's been hired/promoted by whom, the Sentinel's business coverage consists primarily of wire stories that have little relevance locally.

According to a Friday story on AdAge.com, the Sentinel's plight is far from unique--and the worst may be yet to come. The story counts eight daily newspapers that have gotten rid of their standalone Business sections in the past year, including the Denver Post and the Orange County Register. What's behind these changes?:

[A]nalysts, advertisers and publishers say that the stand-alone sections were relatively poor sources of ad revenue that tended to be overmatched by national and online competition on anything beyond the most hyperlocal stories.

[...]

Said veteran newspaper-industry analyst Ed Atorino, of Benchmark Capital: "You do get a story once in awhile about a local storeowner or a closing or something, which you might miss, but most of what's in those sections is rip and read [wireservice copy]," he said. "With all the business news on TV and the internet, the consumer is getting it someplace else."
And the impact goes well beyond the newspapers and their readers, of course. While only a few reporters' jobs may be cut in each community, the big picture shows very real job losses, and local economies do take a small hit. Less of a concern, but a concern nonetheless, is what this means for others who make their living working with the media, as AdAge notes:
The cuts are a source of much consternation...to public-relations executives at small local firms and agencies that may have trouble securing news coverage without them.
From my perspective as someone in PR, this definitely doesn't make my job any easier.
Fort Wayne, however, is pretty lucky: the Sentinel's neighbor across the hall, the Journal Gazette, does an excellent job of providing meaningful local business news and features. We're also fortunate to have the Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly, which gives deep coverage to issues that affect business people throughout northeast Indiana. (Perhaps it's no coincidence that GFWBW's reporters include two Sentinel veterans, Linda Lipp and Doug LeDuc.)

But as the number of outlets decreases, fewer local businesses will have a chance to tell their story. The irony in all this, of course, is that perhaps the biggest advantage local papers have is access to local news and information, which readers can't get anywhere else. As discussed in an earlier post, newspapers certainly are struggling, but they still have some great opportunities to compete.

Regardless of what happens, one thing's certain: since this trend affects local businesses, there's one place you're not likely to read about it--in the business section of the News-Sentinel.

1 comment:

Julianne said...

As a former News-Sentinel employee, including a stint as Business Monday copy editor, I'm particularly sad to see this news. But really, I'm sad all over as I hear the dire news from my friends at the Rocky Mountain News, the Chicago Sun-Times, and other newspapers as well. (Interestingly, many of these friends are now former newspaper employees who jumped before the ship sank any further.)

The Trib announce layoffs this month, too. And while I'm guessing some evolutionary form of media will pick up newspapers' local beat, I mourn the loss of an institution. Reporters and editors weren't making widgets. Nor much money, either. They were motivated by a commitment to truth, to community, to the hope that they could make a difference. Who will pick up that torch and carry it forth, illuminating the dusty corners of local politics and community action? What communal forum will exist for commentary, especially from those who don't have access to technology? Who will keep watch and monitor truth and change for us all?

New online mags are cropping up all over, chasing the 25-34 demographic with entertainment and what's new. Perhaps many of us don't care about the results of your average city council meeting. But newspapers can tell us why we should, how it will touch our lives. And when the reporters are there, seeking truth and clarity, they serve as a stand-in for the average Joe who will be affected by policy and program. As they seek answers, they ensure that people in all levels of government and business remain mindful of the citizen ... who is at home reading Star magazine.