Matthew Price, writer and book critic
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Category: Newspapers

The Death of the Metro Daily, Con’t

Several years ago, I waggishly laid odds on what big American city would be the first to lose its daily newspaper. It was 2008. The forecasts were dire: one Business Week writer predicted that one or major American markets will lose their daily newspaper within 18 months. In a series of updates, I rejiggered my odds and cited more dire forecasts, including one that had 85% of American newspapers going out of business by 2011.

None of this has come to pass. I had the Boston Herald at 2-1 odds to close up shop, but four years later, it’s still scrappy, still in business, and still in print. The closest I came was my prediction that The Detroit News would have to close down. It hasn’t, though it only does home delivery two days a week. It still prints a daily newspaper.

If we’ve learned one thing, change is coming to the America newspaper incrementally. The print edition is not being killed outright; it’s being phased out over time. And the first big city daily to take this step is one of my favorite regional papers, The New Orleans Times-Picayune, which will be scaling its print edition back to three days a week. I cannot see this as anything but a loss, not only for New Orleans but for American newspapering in general. (Even PCMag thinks so.) Sure, the newspaper industry has to face its digital future, yet the slow demise of the print edition is something only to be mourned.


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Critics: A Wretched Species?

Two cheers for the critic! Superannuated (perhaps, but still hanging on by a thread), woefully underpaid (most definitely), and charged with the thankless task of drowning other people’s kittens, the critic, says Francis Wheen in a recent Financial Times piece, can still tempt us to risk something different.


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Guardian City Guides launch

The Guardian’s travel section just launched a nifty series of interactive city guides. Here’s a top ten I wrote on the best outdoor activities in New York. Get your inner urban woodsman (or woman) on right here in the 5 boroughs….


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Death of Everything (Cont’d)

Another week, another disaster for the newspaper industry. When I was blogging last year about what big city daily would be the first to go, I had 2-1 odds on the scrappy Boston Herald biting the dust. But remarkably, this Beantown ᾿bloid is holding on. The late Seattle Post-Intelligencer did not make my original watch list, but I wasn’t too far off with my call on the Rocky Mountain News, which I had laid 3-1 odds on. Both are gone now, and it’s a shame.

All of this is bad, and it’s not nostalgic to say that demise of the American newspaper will bring nothing good to the culture. Sure, let a thousand websites bloom, but none of these will be able to replicate what a newspaper does. (And I don’t care what the brilliant Clay Shirky has to say.) At Garcia Interactive, designer John Duncan predicts 85 percent of American newspapers will be dead by 2011. A nightmare scenario. In a searching essay for The New Republic, Paul Starr reflects on the political consequences of an America with radically diminished newspapers.

There are surely more newspapers closures in the offing this year. But who’s next? Douglas A. Macintyre at 24/7 Wall St. put out a controversial list of the ten papers it thinks will fold or go digital soon. However, always sharp industry vet Allan Mutter, who blogs at Reflections of a Newsosaur, seriously questioned Macintyre’s findings. But this a matter of “if,” not “when.” I’m trying to be reassured by Mutter’s skepticism; but, somewhere, we are headed for a no-newspaper town. What big city will the first to earn this undesirable distinction? The Seattle Times is in trouble; the venerable San Francisco Chronicle, which I had at 3-1, is in worse shape. I’ll give it even odds to survive the rest of the year.


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New Odds: Death of the Metro Daily

The New York Sun closed up shop today, and it’s sad to see it go. But The Sun was more a niche publication than a major metro—my benchmark is a circulation of 100,000 plus, and The Sun’s circ was far below that. In my original post I laid 2-1 odds on the Boston Herald being the first major metro to fold. But the paper seems to holding steady. Ominous things are happening with other of my selections, so here are some revised odds.

The Star-Ledger. Open: 6-1. Current: 4-1. The publishers are still predicting dire consequences—a sale or outright closure—if they don’t get significant concessions from their drivers union by October 8. The mailers union agreed to a deal earlier this month, and non-union employees are taking buyouts, so perhaps the scare tactics are working. But I don’t see a good ending for The Star-Ledger.

Philly Inquirer. Open: 4-1. Current: 3-1. If there’s a drabber big city newspaper in America , I’d like to see it. The Inquirer needs to be redesigned from top to bottom. Say what you will about Sam Zell and his nutty “innovation officer” Lee Abrams(the man is a memo writing demon), but they’ve injected some vitality into the Chicago Tribune, former title holder of drabbest paper in America, which is sporting a cool new design. The Inquirer soldiers on like it’s 1975. Please, Brian Tierney, do SOMETHING to make the Inquirer more pleasing to the eye—maybe you’ll pick up some new readers.

Meanwhile, the Newspaper Guild of Greater Philadelphia recently voted to postpone a *$25-a -week raise which was due for Inquirer and Daily News journos. A noble sacrifice, but if Tierney and Philadelphia Media Holdings can’t afford an extra 25 bucks a week, their balance sheet must be a total disaster.


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Breaking News: Death of the Metropolitan Daily

This just in: A newspaper right here in my own backyard—The New York Sun—just announced that it if can’t round up some new investors, it may cease publishing at the end of September. The Sun, which launched in 2002, has always defied the economics of newspapering. It’s practically a give away, and its editions, which sometimes run as small as 18 pages, never carry much advertising. In tone, it’s stuffy and center-right, but its vigorous coverage of New York is a welcome alternative to the wafer-thin metro section of the New York Times. (Disclosure: I’ve contributed to the Sun’s books pages from time to time.) The paper didn’t make it into my original post about which metropolitan daily will bite the dust first, but I’m offering even odds on the Sun.

There are also reports out of Denver that one of its dailies—The Denver Post or the Rocky Mountain News—may close down sometime soon. Both papers operate under a joint operating agreement between E.W Scripps, owner of the Rocky, and MediaNews Group, which owns the Post. The JOA, however, hasn’t changed the fortunes of either paper, and both are suffering through a bad economy. Like Detroit, Denver won’t be a two paper town forever. Alas, I’m laying 3-1 odds on the Rocky.


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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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