Earlier this week, a report issued by the Audit Bureau of Circulations showed U.S. newspaper circulation had hit its lowest levels since 1945. After months of announcements from papers saying they were planning to drastically downsize, the report provides even more concrete evidence that the industry is in dire straights. Many papers, including the San Francisco Chronicle no longer have their own investigative units and some papers like Westchester, N.Y.’s Journal News, which cut 25 percent of their news and advertising employees in August, are reducing their entire newsroom staff. But could it really be these brutal, across-the-board slashings that are contributing to the declining circulation? Maybe people are turning away from print because they can’t find their news. Especially sports news.
As sports conglomerates like ESPN and Comcast continue to expand into local markets, sports journalists are taking a hard hit. On Oct. 13, longtime sports editor Arthur Martone announced he was leaving the Providence Journal for Comcast New England (incidentally, the Journal’s weekday circulation decreased by 18.8 percent in the six-month period ending Sept. 30 compared to the same period last year, according to the recently released Audit report). And the Intelligent Information Laboratory at Northwestern University just announced a project called Stats Monkey, a robot-esque system that can automatically generate sports stories from online box scores and play-by-plays.
But last month, Phil Meyer, former editor and publisher of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, suggested one way to save newspapers is actually by bringing back sports reporting. “Sports has been an under appreciated asset of newspapers for a long time. Too many editors looked on sports as a necessary evil. My roots are in sports, but all I needed was two World Series titles in Minneapolis to show me the power of sports to sell newspapers and draw online viewers,” he said. “Sports should be the centerpiece of newspaper efforts to rejuvenate themselves.”
With the first game of the World Series set to begin at 7:57 pm Eastern Standard time tonight, maybe those struggling Philadelphia papers can draw on some sports coverage for a temporary revival. If they still have sports reporters. And if the robots don’t beat them to the stories.
U.S. newspaper circulation is on an accelerated free-fall, according to a report released Monday by the Audit Bureau of Circulations. In the six-month period starting last April, circulation declined 10.6 percent, representing increasingly devastating news for an industry already ravaged by decreased subscription rates and skittish advertisers. The Bureau reported a 4.6-percent drop for the same period last year.
The last report, issued by the Bureau in April, showed circulation had weathered a 7.1-percent drop over the previous six-month period starting October 2008. Figures for the reports are based on numbers submitted by more than 375 individual papers. The only paper to post an increase in circulation was the Wall Street Journal, though its numbers were buoyed by its Web site, which requires subscriptions that are included in the data. The 0.6-percent increase, however, seemed to be just enough for the Journal to jump past USA Today as the top-circulated newspaper in the U.S.
But there’s still good news: the Newspaper Association of America released a report Oct. 22 indicating newspaper Web sites attracted 74 million unique monthly viewers in the third quarter of 2009. By contrast, the Journal’s print circulation was 2.02 million, and USA Today dropped 17 percent to 1.9 million. The New York Times came in third with a circulation of 927,851.
But maybe the situation isn’t so dire — maybe people are turning to online news because they are becoming more environmentally conscious. When all the paper’s fold, at least more trees will be safe.
Last week, the New York Times launched its new Bay Area edition, beating the Wall Street Journal in the quest to expand into media markets left hanging as local dailies fold.
And as readers continue to turn to the internet and advertisers continue to turn away from printed pages, there will probably be more big-city voids to fill as more papers continue to fold. But what does it matter — apparently all the papers are the same anyway.
Wednesday’s front pages:
On Monday, the New York Times announced they were cutting 100 newsroom jobs, mirroring a harrowing trend that has ransacked the struggling newspaper industry. Between layoffs, furloughs and buyouts, many of the country’s major (and minor) papers have reduced their staff in an effort to combat dwindling ad revenue and tanking subscriptions.
But there is a positive spin — the Times is mailing buyout offers to its employees before it institutes its mass pink-slipping. That’s not really good news, but it’s better than what the Westchester Journal News did in August when it not only abruptly told all 288 employees their jobs were being eliminated, but also added another pinch of panic — not only were employees axed, but they were told they had to reapply for new positions using the paper’s internal Web site.
At least the Boston Globe is safe — the Times said last week it was taking the paper off the market because the Globe had “improved enough,” according to company chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. Maybe one of the two prospective buyers who submitted preliminary bids for the now off-market Globe could step up and rescue the Times.
Or maybe the Times could save costs by cutting something else. Like maybe the sushi bar in its cafeteria.
Around 11 a.m. Mountain time, a 6-year-old boy apparently took flight above Colorado inside a helium balloon that looked surprisingly like an aluminum-plated UFO. And the nation, perhaps less surprisingly, was transfixed — MSNBC ran a slew of videos, the New York Times ran a constantly updated blog post detailing the saga and cable news channels competed wildly for the afternoon scoop. And Twitter definitely did its part to keep everyone informed — as of 9:30 EST, #balloonboy and related tags (Anne Frank?) were still dominating the trending topics.
At least the aptly named Falcon now has a better alias, even if his family did ultimately find him hiding in their attic in a box.
Now if only Twitter had experienced one of their devastating, productivity-inducing crashes. Then everyone could have their day back.
And oh yeah, the New York Times is no longer looking to sell the Boston Globe. Apparently, the Globe has increased its revenue streams sufficiently enough to allow the Times to forgo the plethora of unattractive offers (okay, there were two).
According to an article on the Times’ Web site, the New York Times Company, which is still looking to sell the Worcester Telegram and Gazette, sent an e-mail to Globe employees around 5 p.m., eliciting across-the-board relief.
The Times is, however, still looking to sell their share of the Boston Red Sox. Getting swept by the Angels in the first round of the playoffs was just too embarrassing.