About Me

  • I've spent more than 25 years at the intersection of traditional and digital journalism. I've helped to invent ways to read and interact with the news and advertising on computer screens and iPads, and before that, I wrote news stories on typewriters and six-ply paper. I co-founded WashingtonPost.com and hyperlocal pioneers Backfence.com and GrowthSpur; served as editor of Philly.com; taught media entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland; and have done product-development and strategy consulting for all sorts of media and Internet companies and startups. You can read more about me here.

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November 12, 2006


edward allen

I am joining you in abandoning the Washington Post, which a month ago cutback on its daily TV listings, and now is cutting back on its stock listings. If you look closely at the circulation report, there is one newspaper that has increased circulation substantially over the last decade _ the Wall Street Journal. Here's a plain vanilla newspaper with few graphics and no pretty color pictures on the front page to attract coins on the street. I buy it and the Financial Times because I know that I will get news for my money, not silly fluff and trend stories. But then I'm just one of those old farts living on a six-figure retirement income, with time to travel and grandchildren to spend on. But I'm not the sort of demographics today's newspapers want, so I've given up on the Post.


Newspapers' response to this is to keep cutting staff and hoping things will change. Nothing like making the product worse and believing that will lure back customers.

In 30 years or so, the failure of this industry will be a model for avoidance. Of course, the people guiding today's newspapers to ruin already have set up their golden parachutes, so it will hardly matter to them.


Those damn reporters are responsible for the circulation decline, some apparently believe, and should be thinking about readership.
This is from the Wall Street Journal story last Friday on the L.A. Times shakeup:

"On Tuesday, Mr. Baquet announced he was leaving. His replacement, James O'Shea, a longtime editor at the Chicago Tribune, takes over from Mr. Baquet as editor of the L.A. Times on Monday. In an interview last week before his appointment was made public, he said reporters should be worrying more about readership than about cost cutting.
"The whole damn industry is focused on the wrong thing," he said. "We're all worried about how many people we have, and what we should really be worried about is declining readership."
At Mr. O'Shea's going-away party earlier this week, he got an ovation from the Chicago Tribune newsroom, say people who were there. They also gave him a gift: a plastic shield and body armor."


actually, papers have fewer readers than they dismally claim. today i went to my unpaid after-school advisor job...and thanks to newspapers in education, (nie) which i believe count as circulation, there was a stack of 28 unread (of 30-delivered) and still bundled san diego union-tribunes. this is a weekly occurence. i hope the advertisers are paying top dollar for this!


How can you totally disregard traffic to websites?? Sure, a lot fewer people are buying the print product, but that's an obvious result of the industry giving away its content for free online. All this focus on circulation misses the point - I haven't seen any good numbers to back this up, but I bet more people are reading newspaper stories today than ever before, because the Internet has made it free and easy to do so.

I consider myself an avid newspaper reader. When I lived in Los Angeles I read only one newspaper each day, and now that I live in Kenya I read that paper and 2-3 others. Newspaper content is more important, influential and widely consumed than ever before.

Newspaper companies have been dismally poor at capitalizing on this expanding audience - "monetizing" it, as they might say in business schools. That more than anything else is why the industry is seen as declining. Papers are trying to figure out how to do this, and some, like the New York Times with its model of charging for premium content, seem to be doing it well. That model might not work for many others. It's a time of growing pains, but I believe the best companies will figure it out.

The tragedy is that the quality of journalism at many places will probably suffer permanently from the retrenchment that the industry is going through right now.

Mark Potts

You raise a good question about traffic to Web sites, but it's basically apples and oranges. Print advertisers aren't paying for that traffic—they're paying for print circulation. Right now, the drastic cutbacks facing newspapers are the results of declining circulation and advertising on the print side; the growth on the online side really isn't a factor.

As you say, there still is a significant issue about monetizing online traffic. I believe that will take care of itself over the next few years as online advertising grows and becomes more sophisticated, and as more sites follow the NY Times model of charging for online subscriptions.

At some point, there will be a transition to seeing the online product as the primary editorial and advertising vehicle, but at most organizations, that transition hasn't even begun yet.

George B.

I bet the NY Post is the only major, large market newspaper with a pro-Republican, pro-Bush, pro-American military slant in its news and editorial pages.

Editors do not seem to realize that the old days of market oligarchy are over and readers now have other sources of news and information including cable, talk radio and the internet available to compare news stories. The MSM will not admit bias, and the public, with options to examine, are now able to select what they think is fair.


At my kids' school last year, stacks of free papers from two competing top 100 daily newspapers were deposited outside the front doors where they remained for hours, typically, until the janitors or the wind carried them away.

And it wasn't just at one school. I spotted the same thing at a school where my wife works.

Part of the problem, I think -- unless you've got a great big sign saying "Free papers", people are afraid to just grab one, so they just go to waste. Papers shouldn't be allowed to just dump copies at schools unless someone there has agreed to take them and use them in some form or fashion.

The other problem -- even if people know they're free, a lot of folks wouldn't read the paper unless you paid them. No wonder circulation is falling.


The problem is newspapers are giving away their content online. What else did they expect would happen to their circulation?

I used to read papers all the time. Now I can just go online like the NY Times site and see the next day's articles at midnite. So why would you want to pay for the paper?

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