Bad news burden

Stuff I have been talking about for years is coming to pass. Newspaper stocks are falling and newspaper revenues are rushing to catch up. Desperate journalists are trying to figure out if there is a future in their vocation or whether they should practice flipping burgers so they have a fall back. A guy in my newsroom periodically calls out: “Next window please.” He says he’s practicing for his next job.

People have long told me I am too much doom and gloom. Frequently a conversation concludes with: “Thanks Dave, now I really feel like killing myself.”

Funny thing is all of this doesn’t make me feel good. Quite the opposite, in fact. So I was right. What’s my reward? The death of the entire industry I have known and loved for 30 years.

I try to keep hope. There is still a chance after all. Though the desperate efforts of desperate newspapers remind me of a dying animal flailing, I want to believe somebody will find something that will make things work out in the end. What’s more, there are business opportunities in this, especially if you can be satisfied with profit margins of less than 30 percent. In fact, there may be some pretty significant business opportunities if, say, one could work out a syndication model for news that works something like Google ads, paying content creators something per view of a piece. That would reward those who make better content as well as the sites that package and promote it well. Most likely it will be a company like Google or Amazon that devise something like this. Few other sites have the yank to bring all newspapers to the table, the expertise to execute effectively, and the deep pockets to pull it off.

Can that save newspaper journalism without the paper component? Not unless somebody invents it, surely. But possibly not even then.

It’s likely there is no single solution. It will be a bunch of little innovations coupled with the willingness of journalists to work for even less money and ever longer hours. Things like EveryBlock hold out the hope of a technological solution that will help people find the news most pertinent to their community or even neighborhood (though that may benefit bloggers more than newspaper sites). The reluctant venturing into niche web sites holds the hope of incremental revenue sources that will help offset the monumental losses of classified and national advertising.

But there is still too much uncertainty, too much stumbling, too much fearful hesitation, and far too much anger to be sure that many newspapers will survive. The overall U.S. economic malaise is just the icing on the cake.

Sure, I’m Mr. Doom-and-Gloom, but it’s not because I want to blow out the candles.

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