Ink Fading for Troubled Newspaper Industry

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Could newspapers soon be a thing of the past? The industry is in dire straits, and there's no talk of any billion dollar bailouts.

Troubles for the nation's newspapers can be blamed on a drop in subscribers and advertising revenue, including classified ads; heavy corporate debt and a rise in internet use.

Web Rules

"It's fast, easy access," said Jen Link, who likes to get her news online. "You can go exactly to what you want to see. You can get it for free."

Click the player to watch the report from CBN News Reporter Mark Martin followed by Gordon Robertson's comments about newspapers and the convenience of the Internet.

"Reality is most people now are getting their news online, especially younger people," said Dan Gainor, vice president of the Media Research Center. "The statistic is in the last couple of years, print newspapers have lost somewhere around 43,000 employees. You can't go through that kind of change in what amounts to a knowledge industry, and not have bad things happening."

And bad things are happening to big players. Recently, the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, Colo. published its last edition, leaving 230 editorial employees without a job. The E.W. Scripps Company, which owns the paper, couldn't find a buyer.

The Tribune Company, publisher of the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times, is in chapter 11 bankruptcy.

The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News, along with the Minneapolis Star-Tribune have also filed for bankruptcy protection.

The New York Times Company hopes to raise millions of dollars to help pay off debt by either borrowing against its new headquarters, or by selling it and leasing the building back.

It also decided to suspend its quarterly dividend.

And the 100-year-old Christian Science Monitor plans to stop printing newspapers this spring. It will become the first national newspaper published only on the internet.

Print Circulation Down

Overall in the United States, the market for getting news hot off the press is declining. In fact, the circulation in nearly all of the top 25 newspapers in the country is down in the past three years.

"They're massively in decline," Gainor said. "One statistic says the top 25 newspapers in 1998 had 18 million readers. In 2008, they have 14 million readers. So they are clearly in decline."

And it's spreading like an epidemic. The Hearst Corporation says it will sell or shut down the San Francisco Chronicle if expenses are not scaled back dramatically in the next few weeks. Hearst says a significant number of people will be laid off at the paper.

The Miami Herald is reportedly also up for grabs.

And in the Motor City, both the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News are cutting back home deliveries to as few as two days a week.

Diversification is Key

Business doesn't appear to be slowing down at the production plant of the Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, V.A. but appearances can be deceiving. The Pilot's owner had put the paper on the market, but no one was willing to pay the price. President and Publisher Maurice Jones said advertising is the achilles heel right now.

"The real challenge is that we've got advertisers who are struggling and cutting back, and therefore our revenues, our principle source of revenue is getting smaller, and so we have to adjust our cost to reflect that," Jones said.

The Pilot has cut 150 positions and recently announced it will lay off 30 more workers. You can already see empty sections in the newsroom. Managing Editor Maria Carrillo said morale is low, but employees are not giving up.

"Everybody's still determined to put out a good newspaper, determined to do a good job on our website, so we're plugging away," Carrillo said.

"We sometime ago, made a decision that we could no longer afford to be a newspaper company -- that what we needed to be was a diverse media company," Jones said.

That includes the Pilot's online edition. So is diversification the key for newspapers to survive?

"Ultimately, a lot of the media outlets are already shifting either in part or in total to the internet," Gainor said. "Moving online, cutting costs. I think in the future you'll see a lot of virtual newsrooms, where you won't even have the big costs of having the office space. You'll have a lot of people working from their cars, working from laptops, and cell phones, and pdas, and you never see them in the office."

That could eventually mean a computer on your table instead of newsprint on your fingers as part of your morning routine.

*Originally aired March 4, 2009.

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