I'm recording the final years of the once almighty press, the daily newspaper
In one sense, it’s sad for me to predict the end. My first job out of college was with a daily newspaper. My entire career (up to two years ago) has been in journalism and publishing. The funny part, and what makes this easy to record, is that journalists, editors, advertising directors and most of all, publishers are unanimously so arrogant, they are not capable of seeing the end game.
Am I exaggerating? Look at how many billions the Tribune Company paid for Times Mirror.
I’ll look that up for you later. The dust is still clearing from the biggest rumble, the sale of the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain. I can tell you their board of directors did some research and saw the darkness at the end of the tunnel. School kids know that Ben Franklin founded one of the first American newspapers and for the next 200 years, the press multiplied and prospered. Each small town had it’s own king. Big cities had a dozen or more daily mastheads to choose from. There have been threats to topple the press with each new technological invention starting with radio’s roar in the twenties. By mid-century, television had captured the interest of the culture. But, newspapers were still in their heyday. The sets were tiny boxes in black and white and there were only three networks. The first signs of serious decay had actually started in the 1970s with the failures of big city afternoon newspapers, with the Chicago Daily News and the Philadelphia Bulletin, and the San Francisco Call-Bulletin were among the biggest to fall. It was called “death in the afternoon.” People were too busy in the evenings and had so many entertainment options, the evening paper reading habit went the way of suspenders. Cable splintered and multiplied the options, but also helped strengthen the big morning newspapers with their large daily audiences, more than the three networks, and new cable shows all together, in most major markets.
Newspaper fiefdoms had a monopoly lock on retail advertising. It was the best of times. Even the initial dot-com “overly exuberant” era of the mid to late ‘90s, had major newspapers such as the San Francisco Chronicle and Boston Globe charging $50,000 a page for sophomoric business start-ups with names such as Gadzoonthite (not quite sure how they spelled their unique site that sold air cleaners and other household gimmicks, Cruel World (a job recruitment site, that leaves a great impression with job candidates), At Your Service (frozen food delivered to your home, we can't imagine anyone at this startup was good at calculating costs). The ash heap was humungous.
Newspaper advertising sales reps were making more money in adjusted dollars than they did during the Rat Pack years selling cigarette ads. The old gray ladies fought off another technology threat. The San Francisco Bay Area actually replaced New York as the No. 1 media center in terms of ad revenue. But the party didn't last long…