Matthew Price, writer and book critic
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Which Big-City Paper Will Die First? My Odds

Call me fussy and outdated, but I’ll read the print edition of the daily paper until the last one rolls off the presses, which, journalism professor Philip Meyer predicts, will happen sometime around 2040. But for some metropolitan dailies, the end could be coming a lot sooner. The newspaper industry bloodbath shows no signs of abating—7,000 jobs have already been lost this year through layoffs and buyouts, and some newspaper stocks are now trading in the single digits. The portents are bad, and getting worse. In the June/July issue of American Journalism Review, Charles Layton looked into the future, crunched the numbers, and came up with some scary figures. The daily paper is in a terrible bind. Among other challenges newspapers face is how to make a buck on the internet. Online ads currently make up less than 10 percent of advertising revenue, so, for now, newspapers are stuck with the print edition.

But that’s just the problem—print revenues continue to decline at a catastrophic rate, and I fear that some papers will have no choice but to close up shop. In Business Week, Jon Fine predicts that “one or more major American markets will lose their daily newspaper within 18 months.” I think Fine’s timeline is pretty much right on the mark, but what paper will go belly up first? Below, I offer some odds on who might be going out of business in the near future. These findings are speculative and unscientific, and I don’t offer them with any joy. I hope the future proves me 100 percent wrong.

Boston Herald: 2-1. Boston’s scrappy second newspaper, and one of my favorite tabloids—every page looks like it’s having a nervous breakdown. Recently outsourced its printing operations, which seems like a desperate move.

Minneapolis Star Tribune: 3-1. Avista Capital Partners, which had had no previous experience running a newspaper when it bought the Strib in 2006, is having trouble making loan payments.

San Francisco Chronicle: 3-1. The Bay City’s signature paper is laying off 125 employees, and is reportedly losing a million dollars a week. Will the Chron go all digital, or will Hearst just kill it?

The Detroit News: 4-1. Detroit will not be a two newspaper town for much longer, and the Free Press, which has its own troubles, will probably outlive the News.

Philadelphia Daily News/Philly Inquirer: 4-1. Brian Tierney took on a lot of debt when he bought Philly’s ’bloid and broadsheet from McClatchy in 2006. Things are looking grim, and I think it’s a fair bet that Tierney will have to close one paper to save the other. The Daily News goes.

The Star-Ledger: 6-1. Advance Publications has remained steadfast in its commitment to newspapering—see The Times-Picayune in New Orleans—but things are so dire at New Jersey’s largest paper that if 200 employees don’t take a buyout, the Star-Ledger faces the prospect of being sold and who knows what.

Note: Sam Zell, owner of the Los Angeles Times and The Chicago Tribune, is trying to slash and cut his way to profitability, but I don’t think either paper is in imminent danger of going out of business. But you never know.

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Matthew Price








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