Newspapers are not failing because they gave away their product for free over the Internet.
Newspapers are not failing because a younger generation does not want to read and has more interest in social networking and video games.
Newspapers are failing because of the arrogance of the people who are running them.
I am not talking about the editors and reporters on the front lines. They are playing with the meager hands they have been dealt. The problem is at the top- the companies that decided it was more important to squeeze every last cent out of the newspapers without putting any quality back into them.
Companies like GateHouse Media, which I worked for when it was known as Liberty Group Publishing bought up one newspaper after another, chose center production hubs and eliminated jobs in communities without doing anything to improve their products. News staff sizes were cut drastically, production jobs eliminated entirely, while all the while company executives boasted of an improved product. Usually, this improved product consisted of a redesign, some advertising initiatives, and more special sections and niche products than can be counted. And that devotion to outside products cut down on the quality of the daily newspaper.
In small communities, obituaries, wedding anniversaries, engagements, births, all of which had been considered news in the past, were now just sources of revenue. If a family cannot afford to pay outrageous prices to a newspaper during its time of grief, the loved one's death will simply go without notice.
And no one at the top of these newspaper chains was able to figure out they were creating a disconnect between the community and the newspaper. Newspaper owners of the past, most of whom lived in the community, were smart enough to know that membership in the Chamber of Commerce and sponsoring a fireworks display or a concert (or more likely some kind of business expo) only reached one segment of the community and not a big one at that. It doesn't matter how much time you play footsie with the business community if you are not reaching their potential customers. Each time newspapers cut back on news coverage, or charged for it, they lost more and more of those potential customers.
Are there any signs that anyone at the top of the newspaper chains recognizes this problem and is doing anything about it?
Sadly, no. If anything, the companies are headed in the opposite direction. Instead of putting more money into their news products, newspapers continue to create niche products, each of which brings in some revenue, but do nothing to stop the hemorrhaging taking place in the core product. More attention is paid to the type of national celebrity news that readers can and will find more easily on the internet. What they usually will not find on the internet is the local news they need.
And the practice of centralizing production and cutting jobs continues. If even some of the savings that the newspaper chains realize from these moves were put back into the journalistic product, there might be something to say for them, but that is almost never the case. All it does, is improve the company's bottom line, cut more jobs, and slash even more ties to the local communities that eventually will determine if the newspapers are going to survive.
The most recent move of this sort was announced this week by Gannett, the country's most powerful newspaper chain. As I noted Tuesday, Gannett is centralizing pagination at five hubs across the country, and considering the company has nearly 100 daily newspapers, that means a number of people will receive pink slips in the near future, affecting every local community Gannett is supposed to serve.
While Gannett and other newspaper chains cannibalize their own products in search of every nickel they can find, the long-term health of those very products is being sacrificed for short-term profits for stockholders and a killing for the executives who are destroying the foundation on which their companies were built.
In the March 18 Turner Report, I noted the massive bonuses Gannett CEO Craig Dubow and other Gannett executives have received while cutting jobs and forcing employees to take two weeks of unpaid furloughs:
In a proxy statement filed today with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Gannett, owner of USA Today and daily newspapers across the United States, including the Springfield News-Leader, announced more than $2.1 million in bonuses for its five top executives, including $1,450,000 for CEO Craig Dubow.
And while Gannett employees have to wonder if they will have still jobs and have to take meager severance packages and/or unemployment pay when they are fired, Dubow and his fellow executives can wreak havoc with others' lives while being guaranteed they will not face similar upheavals:
And while many Gannett employees were shown the door to help the company's bottom line, Dubow has no needs to worry on that account. If he ever leaves the company voluntarily, it has already invested nearly $9.6 million for his pension, he has nearly $6 million in stock options, and more than $3.8 million in restricted stock units, for a total of $19,312,688, according to the proxy statement.
After Dubow leaves the company, he will have medical coverage paid for life, home computer assistance for three years, use of the company plane for the same amount of time (though he will have to reimburse Gannett for that), use of an office, secretarial assistance, for a total of $47,000 worth of perks.
If for some reason, the ownership of Gannett changes hands, Craig Dubow is guaranteed $39 million under his contract, with the other top four officials guaranteed a combined $48.5 million, for a total of $87.5 million.
Please don't blame a fickle readership for the rapid disintegration of newspapers in the United States and don't consider using taxpayer money to prop up this cadaver so it can pillage our communities for more profits and provide little of substance in return.
Readers only left newspapers because the newspapers left the readers.