- The Washington Times - Monday, August 4, 2008


Massive layoffs, declining revenues and rising prices in the past few months have made it clear that newsrooms must make large changes to stay financially afloat. The New York Times faced this reality last quarter, reporting a profit decrease of 82 percent. The San Francisco Chronicle just cut 25 percent of its newsroom staff. Here at the Washington Times, we have seen very similar changes, recently cutting several editors, clerks and researchers while focusing our energies on improving our Web site in order to reach a larger audience.

One reason for newspapers’ declining revenues is the struggle with rising prices for essential products like newsprint. And one of the first areas where companies cut back during economic woes is advertising - the heartbeat of newspaper revenue.

But newspapers have been around for hundreds of years surviving depressed economies. The issue now is much bigger than economics, office supplies and advertising: the fact that the 20- and 30-somethings generation is almost completely dependent on the Web for news and is not reading actual newspapers. Young people are choosing the free news medium, as the Web offers the opportunity to be amply informed without shelling out 50 cents a day for a newspaper. The Online Publishers Association found in November 2004 that 18- to 34-year-olds are far more apt to log on to the Internet (46 percent) than watch television (35 percent), read a book (7 percent), turn on a radio (3 percent), read a newspaper (3 percent) or flip through a magazine (less than 1 percent).

As newspaper readership declines and moves to the Web, so must go the newsroom. The result is a reporting staff that is smaller, younger, more tech-savvy and oriented to serving the demands of both print and the Web. Staffs are also under greater pressure and have less institutional memory, less knowledge of the community and how to gather news and there are fewer editors to catch mistakes.

Regardless, according to a recent Pew Study, newspaper editors believe their product is improving, not worsening. Fully 56 percent think their news product is better than it was three years earlier, which may be the result of a common trend in all newsrooms: booming multimedia departments. It is no secret that most newspapers, including this one, are actively moving in the direction of Web, television and radio in attempts to recapture lost advertising revenue and reach a broader audience.

So the newspaper has not died, but the industry will have to evolve with the times in order to thrive and serve the American people.

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