Critique of the Newspaper Industry by a Journalist

Finally, a logical observation

created Jun 12, 2019

Jun 10, 2019 - Politico - Newspapers’ Embarrassing Lobbying Campaign - written by Jack Shafer, Politico’s senior media writer

The industry doesn’t need—and shouldn’t ask for—a special law to help it compete with Google and Facebook.

The article sounded like something that I would have written.

The newspaper industry has crawled up Capitol Hill once again to beg for an antitrust exemption it thinks it needs in its fight with Google and Facebook for advertising dollars.

The bill’s supporters also falsely blame Google and Facebook [and Craigslist] for the newspaper industry’s decay when circulation declines—especially when measured per capita—predate the emergence of the web.

In a notable 1976 Los Angeles Times piece, press chronicler David Shaw wrote in his lede, “Are you now holding an endangered species in your hands?”

The internet began around 1970. The web began around 1990.

In these pre-web days, as newspapers became less popular (and sometimes more expensive), advertisers moved their dollars to radio and television. Nobody in the news industry called for government protection back then just because advertisers started spending money selling their wares on the local UHF station.

The newspapers that are struggling to compete for digital dollars have partly themselves to blame. In 2000, classified ads made up about 40 percent of newspaper revenue, the Minneapolis Tribune reports.

That's the first time that I have seen a classified ad revenue number below 40 percent. Over the years, I have seen many numbers reported, and the classified or total ad revenue for print newspapers prior to 1990 ranged between 50 and 80 percent with 65 percent being the number that I remember most. I have always thought that the newspaper industry earned most of its revenue from print classified ads or maybe it's from all print ads.

Back to the Politico post:

By 2012, that [classified ad revenue] figure had dropped to 18 percent, but Google and Facebook played almost no part in this collapse. Craig Newmark built a better—a much cheaper—classified mousetrap for consumers at Craigslist. eBay also took some of the newspaper market share. But the newspaper industry itself undermined the conventional print classified business as much or more than did Newmark.

Never forget that when newspapers were king and held pricing power over advertisers, they gouged advertisers with ever higher ad rates, and they didn’t mind going to Congress to protect their position then, either.

The backers of the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act of 2019 seem to think that a segment of the news industry has a “right” to the levels of revenue it once enjoyed. That’s almost as crazy as President Donald Trump’s protectionist tariffs! In her column, the Post’s Sullivan argues that we should pass the antitrust bill to give newspapers a breather because they produce a valuable good.

I agree that newspapers are the greatest media ever invented. I swaddled my children in newsprint and fed them newsprint porridge as their first solid meals. But my nostalgia for the great newspaper era is no justification for putting a federal thumb on the scales in the direction of newsprint. If consumers are deliberately spurning newspapers en masse and flocking elsewhere for news and advertising, it’s not the business of Congress to steer them back.

Instead of petitioning Congress for special privileges in the Katharine Graham manner, the news industry needs to compete. If it can’t wrangle enough customers, it deserves what’s coming to it.

Jack Shafer

I need to read Shafer more. I have read some of his media-related posts in the past. Shafer's views seem rooted in reality. I almost always disagree with Sullivan's views about the media. Her views seem based entirely on emotion. Unfortunately, other journalists amplify Sullivan's views more than Shafer's, which does nothing to help the newspaper industry.

In 2016, I created my post The case for print journalism, which referenced an article by Shafer, titled Why Print News Still Rules. It's an excellent article. Shafer makes a strong case as to why print media is important or can be important again.

I maintain my info page, titled Slow News Movement.

In early 2016, the idea of consuming news infrequently and more deeply seemed attractive to me. This meant eschewing breaking news and waiting for the full story or analysis. It meant consuming news once or twice a day at regular intervals, such as first thing in the morning or in the evening. It meant using a print newspaper cycle of receiving news but applied to digital devices and distribution methods.

I would consider reading a print newspaper again, provided the newspaper industry, such as our local daily newspaper, The Toledo Blade, respected its readers more, especially its paying customers.

First, the Blade needs to overhaul its web UI/UX for subscribers by rebuilding its website from scratch. The Blade can offer its current garbage website to non-subscribers. But for paying customers, the Blade needs to make its website more like but scaled up or enhanced slightly with a smidgen of CSS to make the site display better on all devices, and by including images, video, and audio content when applicable. But for subscribers should contain NO ADS, little to no JavaScript, no trackers. Subscribers should receive a fast-loading, lightweight website that does not violate subscribers's security and privacy via nefarious ad tech.

The Blade should offer a real email newsletter or multiple email newsletters based upon topics. The current daily email contains only a few stories. The Blade should produce podcasts if resources exist. The podcasts would focus on local issues and range in length between 5 to 15 minutes.

Why do so many print newspapers still use the broadsheet format or one of its close cousins? The tabloid format is easier to handle, in my opinion. I'm basing that on the incredibly rare times that I read the Toledo City Paper, which is produced twice a month. The TCP uses the tabloid format. Earlier this decade, the Blade sued out of business the Toledo Free Press, which produced a print product twice a week, and it used a tabloid format too.

The Blade's lawsuit against the TFP was frivolous and petty. The TFP's ad business increased last last decade and early this decade, and I suppose that the Blade felt threatened. Allegedly, the Blade has lost money every year since the early 1980s. The Blade is subsidized by the Block family's profitable businesses that provide internet access and cable TV. The Blade (Block family) had the money to bury the TFP in a long legal battle, which is what occurred.

In my opinion, that makes the Blade anti-local business, anti-local media, anti-truth to power, anti-democracy, anti-human decency. The Blade felt threatened by a twice-a-week, free newspaper. The Toledo area lost something important when the Blade forced the closure of a local media org. I wonder what Sullivan would think about the Blade's anti-media behavior?

Back in February of 2019, The Blade eliminated two days from its print schedule: Monday and Tuesday. Naturally, a lot of print fans were upset. We canceled our print subscription to the Blade back in 2005 or 2006 because we didn't read it.

The Blade updates its website daily, but it produces a print product five days a week.

Why do newspapers need to print daily or even five days per week? Maybe a newspaper should update its website daily but produce a print product only three days per week. Create the print product in either the tabloid format or something like a paper magazine format.

Don't print traffic accidents and court proceedings. Only print the longer articles, featured stories, investigations, reports, opinions, and other content that is not time sensitive. Leave the sports scores to the website only. But a long story about a local athlete or an investigation into corrupt recruiting by a local high school or university would appear on the website and in the print edition.

Back in 2017, I noted more common sense thinking by Shafer.

... as Tim O’Reilly wrote:

“When sites like the Huffington Post post partisan clickbait that is clearly untrue, they deserve to be shunned, not reshared.”

Is this something new? No, No. Jack Shafer (Politico) explains why:

“We’d have more cause for alarm if fake news was something new, but it isn’t. If you define fake news as deliberately erroneous reports — not journalistic mistakes and miscues like much of the reporting in the run up to the Iraq War — fake news has been a reading staple for as long as the journalists have spun words."

More thoughts


I'll edit this page later with more info and links. These were my quick thoughts, posted yesterday. I usually disagree with Jeff Jarvis's opinions about media and technology, but he wrote an excellent post too this week.

Some media people are blaming the media, especially newspapers, for their industry's problems.

Publishers, lobbying for laws around the world that will help them extract payments from platforms like Google for linking to news, are ruining the internet

Mediagazer reactions:

Bill Thompson / @billt: As ever, @jeffjarvis is eloquent & points us in the right direction-as one of those who undermined the newspaper business model by making The Guardian free online in 1996 I would say that. But I still believe that sensible regulation is possible & we need to engage to deliver it

How is it Craigslist's fault that the Guardian chose to make its content free back in 1996? And the dude still believes that regulation is necessary.

Joshua Benton / @jbenton: My experience reading a @jeffjarvis piece on the news business is usually agreeing with the underlying logic but parting ways on the idea the real culprit is the incompetence/stupidity/arrogance of, I guess, everyone in the entire industry

YEP. That's true. That's the reality that has existed for over 20 years.

"... the real culprit is the incompetence/stupidity/arrogance of everyone in the entire [newspaper/media] industry"

In 2019, media people STILL claim that Craigslist destroyed the newspaper industry. It was never Craigslist fault in 1999, 2009, nor 2019.

Another story:

The newspaper industry doesn't need a special antitrust exemption to help it compete with Google, Facebook; the papers are largely to blame for their downfall

WOW. I did not write that politico story.

WaPo media writer or something like that Margaret Sullivan tweeted:

Margaret Sullivan / @sulliview: I'm afraid that those who say that local newspapers should stop whining and heal themselves really have very little idea of what they're talking about. How many of you have worked at one in the past decade? (I have.)

Uh, yeah, and what's her point? She no longer works at a local newspaper. She found safe refuge at a national paper, owned by the wealthiest person on the planet. She has nothing to worry about as long as she is employed at WaPo. She can blather about local media, but her views are not worthy of attention, since she no longer works in local media.

For years, I have said that the media whine more than any other industry. And yes, when local newspapers stop blaming everyone and everything else for its problems and realize that it's 100 percent responsible for its woes, then that type of clear thinking might give the newspapers a chance to survive.

But I do not believe that local newspapers will be a part the local media landscape in the future. New local media startups will replace newspapers.

Another reaction:

Steve Yelvington / @yelvington: So let's take on another common argument — that news publishers failed to innovate in the face of a changing competitive landscape. That turns out to have some big holes in it. Let me explain in this thread:

Why do media people use the cesspool of the internet to discuss a complex issue? Either they use shallow thinking because of Twitter's limitation, or they create a tweetstorm, which is one of the worst methods for writing longer pieces, especially since Blogger started 20 years ago, in 1999.

See, even when obviously better methods exist for publishing on the web, journalists fail to use them. This behavior helps explain why journalists and the media are to blame for its problems, not big tech and not the rest of us.

Here's some fantastic stupidity:

Steve Yelvington / @yelvington: Blaming editors and publishers is like being angry at the McDonald's manager for not selling healthy food.

WTF? Toledo has ONE daily newspaper. Blade now prints five days a week, but it publishes stories to the web every day. It's still called a daily newspaper. But we have only one.

Toledo has more than one restaurant. McDonald's is not the only eatery in Toledo. Even among the fast food businesses, Toledo has more than McDonald's. Burger King will begin selling the delicious Impossible Burger, which means that Toledo will have an option among the fast food businesses if customers desire a healthy option.

That person's response will probably be one of the dumbest things written, regarding this subject. He added to his response by saying:

Local management is there to execute the corporate plan, not choose direction.

The Toledo Blade is an independent, family-owned newspaper.

McDonald's is not running around constantly telling citizens to eat at McDonald's because it saves democracy.

Comparing a daily newspaper to McDonald's is beyond imbecilic. Again, when this kind of demented thinking exists, it's another reason why the newspaper industry is to blame for its problems and why it will not be a part of the future media landscape.

Michael Socolow / @michaelsocolow: How did @jackshafer write about the “Journalism Competition and Preservation Act of 2019” without noting “The Newspaper Preservation Act” of 1969?That law - w/ its antitrust exemptions - made newspapers fat & happy in 1970s. It was signed by Nixon!

Local newspapers were monopolies, regarding local advertising and more. Did the newspaper industry complain about its monopolistic ways long ago? Did journalists demand government regulate the newspaper industry?

Here's another journalist or former journalist who knee-jerked too quickly without processing the information, considering the source, or waiting for someone else to verify. Twitter is a misinformation platform. It's best to wait a day or two for a story to age, which means more context and facts could become available that might change the original story.

And there's one of the big reasons for the sinking local newspapers...New Study Finds Google Receives an Estimated $4.7 Billion in Revenue from News Publishers’ Content

The sweet irony of this BS study is all the journalists tearing apart bc it lacks accuracy. A perfect encapsulation of the value of journalists AND the industry’s desperate attempt to blame everyone else on their woes instead of looking in the mirror and changing what they do.

Jun 12, 2019 links

Survey finds 16% of US respondents pay for news, and 11% on average in nine other countries, but most people who do pay for news only have one subscription

Meeker's chart on time spent and ad spend across media segments shows print took 7% of spending in 2018 and just 3% of attention, implying it will fall further

Mary Meeker releases her Internet Trends 2019 report, showing US ad spending up 22% in 2018, with issues ahead for targeted ads due to GDPR and privacy concerns

HN discussion about the latest Meeker report.

Jun 13, 2019

Jul 28, 2019 - The Consumer Trends That Destroyed Media’s Business Model

Related Hacker News thread with 45 comments.

The post is master of the obvious, but the post contains data to support what most of us assumed was occurring over the past 20 years.

Like many, I was wrong about the subscription model for the news media. I thought that a possible scheme for subscriptions could be: one for national media, in the $12–20 a month range, another, less expensive ($5–$9/month) for local news, and the last one for specialized content, whether it is a business or a leisure publication.

I was wrong. Recent studies show that in most markets, not only is a small 10 percent slice of the readership is willing to pay for an online publication, but, on average, there is room for ONE, paid-for media subscription per consumer unit.

The migration to digital has put news content in direct competition with everything else. News, social, video-on-demand, games, are now fighting for spending allocation, and time spent.

1. How much we spend (or how Netflix eats online news)

In the United States, for the 2015–2017 period, the average income before tax rose by 5.6%. At the same time, money spent on entertainment, all forms included, grew by 12%. That’s twice the rate of the income and four times the inflation rate for the period (source: Bureau of Labor Statistics).

Now, let’s narrow this down to the video-on-demand segment (Netflix, Hulu, etc.) and consider a more recent time frame. For the period 2017–1019, while the inflation was in check at 4.5%, the spending allocated to Subscription Video-on-Demand (SVoD) jumped by 17.5%. For the top quintile of the US households, BLS data show a growth of 159 % in video streaming expenditures for the 2013–2016 period!

Despite a record paying rate for online news, Swedes spent less than $16 a month in digital subscription and less than $8 for print media. And we are talking of a wealthy country with high media literacy.

Spending on cellular plans follows an identical trend: significant in relative terms and growing way faster than inflation. Again, the top US quintile household was spending on average $1,754 in 2017, a 22% increase in four years, almost five times inflation.

For most of the above, we are talking of spending that didn’t exist fifteen or twenty years ago. Hence the terrible scissor effect experienced by the news media sector:

2. Time spent

An identical scenario unfolded for the time allocated to media consumption.

Between 2010 and 2018, the daily time reading a newspaper dropped by more than half, from 25 to 12 minutes, while the reading of magazines dwindled by 38% from 24 to 15 minutes.

Simultaneously, between 2010 and 2018, mobile usage and all of what it carries, went from 8% of minutes spent on various media (radio and TV are not shown here) to a solid one-third of media time.

Consequently, ad spending has brutally adjusted:

The chart above shows that the print’s suffering is not over. While desktop and mobile’s respective time spent and advertising dollars are now in sync, print, with still 7% of ad spending for only 3% of time spent, still has a lot to lose.

Most news outlets won’t have the resources to be exhaustive in their coverage and will have to focus on what their customers value more, like local, specialized or service-related content.

Money and time are more than ever intertwined. A media outlet able to convince its readers that the price it asks is a mean to save their valuable time will have a powerful value proposition (that’s the pitch of The Economist, for instance).

Or maybe the web design. Maybe a localized, subscription-based media startup would benefit by using a similar web design, minus the ads, since it will be subscription or donation based.

Days are numbered for print.


Daily newspapers better get used to it and morph into stronger weeklies, distributed in a highly optimized way, coupled with highly targeted web sites and apps.

Hah! The Toledo Blade offers no digital products worth funding, which is why I created my own web app to read the Blade.

I'm a digital subscriber to the Blade, and my personal terms of service require no advertising, no tracking bullshit, and no useless JavaScript to be downloaded from the publisher to my computers.