BEAM: The Newspaper Industry Isn’t Dead Yet

Editor’s Note: Uhh, yeah. It is.

America’s newspapers find themselves in much the same boat as Mark Twain when his obituary was mistakenly published in 1897 in the New York Journal.

“The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated,” the literary genius wrote after hearing the news.

Some television and radio outlets and their on-air personalities relish the difficult times newspapers have faced in recent years, but most of them are engaging in either wishful thinking or inaccurate research.

Morley Safer of CBS-TV’s “60 Minutes” is the latest to go off the deep end with a report on the The Times-Picayune of New Orleans.

“It’s hardly news that the newspaper business is on the ropes,” Safer said. “Some papers have folded completely, others have reduced the number of pages, virtually an entire industry in free fall.”

Safer told New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, “Newspapers are dying all over the country. It’s a dying business.”

The Times-Picayune made national news when it decided last October to begin publishing print editions only three days a week — Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. New Orleans became the first major city in the country without a daily newspaper.

Newspaper critics saw the transition as a signal to declare war on an industry that was hit hard by the economic slump in 2008. What they haven’t been willing to accept is the fact many newspapers took drastic steps to cut costs and are working hard to restore readership and advertising revenues. And it’s working.

Much of the news on radio and television is available because a newspaper reporter somewhere did his or her research and produced an informative story, a human interest feature or an investigative piece. The Internet has become a great news source, but much of its content was written by news reporters and published by newspapers around the country.

You know you must be doing something right when the competition starts taking cheap shots. KPLC-TV, for example, has been running self-promotion spots touting its classified advertising while trying to discredit the effectiveness of similar advertising at the American Press and other newspapers. Its feeble attempt to corner that niche hasn’t been successful.

Channel 7 viewers are also told daily that television is watched eight hours a day, and that is where companies should spend their advertising dollars. What you don’t hear is that those viewers are also watching dozens of other channels over those eight hours that have no link to Southwest Louisiana.

Chris Moss, the wife of an extremely successful newspaperman, talked about TV advertising when she noted that newspapers still have the highest penetration of any media in any market.

“Why? There is only one newspaper in any community. Television, radio and the Internet are fractured into multiple channels and portals,” Moss said.

Dillard’s, one of the most successful department store chains in the country, uses newspaper advertising daily. Its Lake Charles store on a recent Saturday was jam-packed with people who had seen the ad that said customers could take 50 percent off the price of all marked-down merchandise.

Walmart has also increased the use of newspapers as an advertising source because the chain has seen major results from its inserts.

Newspapers like the American Press that publish comprehensive local news, stimulating editorials and commentary, in-depth sports coverage and entertainment sections will survive, and most are doing just that. They haven’t ignored the Internet, either. Papers have their online editions that contain up-to-the-minute, late-breaking news reports, historical archives and colorful advertising.

When The Times-Picayune cut back its print editions, it took the easy way out. Others in the same boat switched to survival mode and better solutions that made them stronger. The Advocate of Baton Rouge seized the opportunity and moved into New Orleans. It has enjoyed a tremendous reception from the people and the advertisers there.

Moss, whose husband, Edward, is president and chief executive officer of The Denver Post, had some harsh words for Morley Safer and his premature obituary for newspapers.

“Your narrow view did not prevent you from making sweeping statements about the newspaper industry that were not well-researched, nor were they accurate …,” Moss said.

“Before you make sweeping statements like ‘all newspapers are dying,’ and ‘who would buy a newspaper in this day and age?’ you should check your sources.”

The Denver Post website notes that Edward Moss was president and publisher for two years at the San Diego Union-Tribune and turned the company around to a franchise with nearly $30 million of annual profit. He had similar success at the Akron Beacon Journal, and is doing the same thing at the Post.

Moss wants to know why Safer didn’t bother to talk about these tremendous newspaper success stories. She said, “The newspaper industry cannot and should not allow your misinformation to propagate in the television media and poison their hard-fought recovery.”

Those of us in the newspaper business take our responsibilities to our readers seriously. Sure, some newspapers have folded and others may do the same, but the industry isn’t dead, not by a long shot. And when some in TV, radio and other media outlets sweep down like vultures, we will fend them off with every resource at our disposal.

Jim Beam, the retired editor of the Lake Charles American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 337-494-4025 or [email protected].

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