It’s not the economy, stupid

I’m sorry, but every time a newspaper executive discussing layoffs and buyouts blames things like “a drastic economic slump and the meltdown of the Bay Area housing market” I laugh.

Are you kidding?  Is that a joke?

Your profits are shrinking because The World Has Passed You By.

For more than ten years newspaper companies have done Not Enough, and now they (uh, we, I suppose) are paying for it.

So please, folks, when you talk to reporters and give them your quotes about why your company has to cut costs, put the blame where it belongs: On the long series of short-sighted people who have pulled the strings with one eye on quick profits and the other eye on the expense report.

Real estate downtown? Economic slump? Was that really a factor in 2004 or 2005 when the wider Web sped past your pressroom window while you were focusing on making a 20% margin?

It’s not the economy, stupid. It’s that you missed opportunities and continue to miss opportunities to grow an online audience.

Advice to newspaper executives and publishers: Don’t miss too many more opportunities.

4 Replies to “It’s not the economy, stupid”

  1. While I completely agree with the overall premise — that newspapers are suffering now for their sloth — I will quibble a bit. It’s foolish to question if the current economy is hurting newspapers because it undoubtably is. It’s impossible to separate the business climate from the economic climate. Because even if this was a newspaper golden age — no innernets, no Craigslist, just paper — and the business model was rock solid, the current economy and the real estate market would still be negatively affecting newspapers. The last time my paper contemplated layoffs? The real estate crash of the early 1980s. Classifieds were king then, yet when condo project ads evaporated seemingly overnight, the business was rocked. So, the economy plays a part.

    But, as I said, I agree that newspapers are paying a steep price for their sloth now. Things would be bad now if the economy was good. But it’s not. So the pain of our lack of innovation is made worse. It’s like the economy is kicking newspapers while they’re down.

    Economics is largely about the action at the margins. Things were bad before the economy turned. Now they’re made worse by it. So, I would say your premise is more like “it’s not ONLY the economy, stupid.” Anyone who believes that all will be right as rain when the economy comes back are just what your title says: stupid.

  2. Agreed, for the most part – it’s not just the economy.

    I think there’s a bigger set of issues than year-to-year economic trends or even organizational sloth at the core of all this, especially as applied to major metros: suburbanization and post-industrialism.

    Without getting all graduate-studenty about it, I would put it this way:

    The idea that there is a static set of “readers” interested in “local news” about the city where a major metro happens to be physically located is an increasingly quaint one.

    Couple that with the unbundling of media online, and you end up with a lot of overstaffed papers in medium-to-large cities with a readership that gets everything but local news somewhere else.

  3. And we’ll see to what extent real estate dollars actually come back to newspapers even after the market recovers. (Newspapers that haven’t done anything new to lure those dollars back, anyway.)

    I actually have heard execs assure their audience that things will be OK once real estate climbs out of the gutter. But the message I see again and again in the real estate trade publications is unambiguous: Print newspaper advertising is obsolete. Just because the dollars came back to us after the previous boom-bust cycle doesn’t mean their coming back this time. Recruitment ring a bell, anyone?

    If we want those dollars back, we’ll actually have to earn them this time.

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