Friday, January 11, 2008

A Sign Of The Times

Yesterday, I picked up both the Chicago Reader and the New City Journal, another "free" newspaper here in Chicago. What I saw shocked me. It wasn't the content, though; it was the size of both papers.

Recently, the Reader went to a tabloid format. They'd already reduced the number of sections from four to three a few years ago, when they had their old format. Back in the day, the Reader was a thick paper, full of ads, personals, etc. This is not the case.

I pick up a Reader every couple of weeks. When I was a young single guy, picking up a Reader was a Thursday tradition. You'd check out where bands were playing, read music reviews, maybe even look through the "Matches." Even just a few years ago, Kim and I met through the Matches, though we did it online.

The newspaper business is in trouble. Recently, Cincinnati joined the many US cities that only have only one major newspaper. My friend Larry, who works for the Hartford Courant, told me that they keep attriting positions down without replacing people, meaning a bigger and bigger workload for him. The Chicago Tribune was recently sold, and a lot of people think that Sam Zell may have been foolish to buy it. And the Sun-Times laid off a bunch of people in the last week.

I have trouble believing that we're looking at the beginning of the end of newspapers. But there's a shift going on. People in advertising have trouble selling ads-- why, the potential customer asks, should they pay for an ad when they can advertise free on Craigslist?

Zell has talked about newspapers needing to develop new means of revenue. What this means remains to be seen. He's succeeded in all of his other endeavors; I hope he saves the Tribune.

For my part, as much as I read news online-- I probably spent an equal amount of time every day reading the paper and online versions of the New York Times (I subscribe to the New York Times)-- I can't imagine a day when I don't want to have the newspaper in front of me while I eat my breakfast. I hope that the people who run newspapers can figure something out.


Ɯbermilf said...

Apparently, the Trib believes the way to save it is to cater to the lowest common denominator and become a combination of US Weekly, Woman's Day and Fox News -- without the in-depth reporting.

Bubs said...

Face it, all the hooking up, escort-shopping, apartment-hunting and all can be done on craigslist now. Which makes it easier for suburban cops doing stings, I'll tell you that. You don't have to go looking for a bookstore that has the Reader.

Seriously, though I remember exactly what you mean about the Thursday ritual. I worked at Kroch's and Brentano's years ago, and it was great when the Reader came and you could plan your weekend.

dmarks said...

This is the first time I've heard of the Reader. I've also noticed so many weekly newspapers where there used to be none.

I guess, if you look at it one way, an industry that uses so much paper in such a temporary way seems kind of wasteful. My brother seems to be ditching actual newspapers for reading them on his Kindle.

Lauren said...

You're so right. The newspaper print business is in serous trouble. In Louisville, we have only one major paper and it's doing the same act of attrition on its staff. There's just something so intimate about feeling the newspaper in your hands as you drink your coffee.

In the interest of full disclosure, I also subscribe to the New York Times Online. It's not my fault! I'm addicted to the crossword puzzle.

Dale said...

There's a definite shift although I must say now, I find I read more news online than through the paper. The transit paper I read amazes me though with it's liberal sprinklings of the 'c' word, the 'f' word and a lot of stuff I'm surprised even sees the light of day.

Toccata said...

Although I'm an online news junkie my first love is reading an actual paper. There is nothing better than sitting with a good cup of coffee and reading my Globe and Mail and then the local newspaper. A lot of major cities here have also down to one local newspaper.

Distributorcap said...

I have trouble believing that we're looking at the beginning of the end of newspapers. But there's a shift going on. People in advertising have trouble selling ads-- why, the potential customer asks, should they pay for an ad when they can advertise free on Craigslist

newspapers are dying and dying fast -- for many reasons -- one being that so few people under the age of 40 read a newspaper anymore -- they read Us, People etc to get their 'news' and unfortunately advertisers ONLY want to advertise to people under the age of 50 -- so they fish where the fish are. All said the New York Times still bills over $1.5 billion in advertising sales. They still make money, just not enough money for their corporate owners.

A lot of people do read papers on line -- and that is where it is heading.

Also newspapers, in there failing quest to get younger readers are trying to be Us and People -- and end up being like the New York Post.

and finally (last part of tirade) -- newspapers are becoming more and more mouthpieces of their owners -- hence not balanced and un-biased fact reporters (see the New York Post again). Watch what happens to the Wall Street Journal now

I cancelled my subscription to New York Times (a paper i faithfully read for 35 years) after they hired Bill Kristol as an op-ed writer. I get my news on-line and through news blogs --- where I don't have to read about Britney or Paris. or Kristol. Fair and balanced is fine -- hiring liars is not.

Erik Donald France said...

Good luck to them!

It's a strange transitional time along the digital line of march.

Next year, TVs; then driver's licenses. More fun in the Land of Nod.

SkylersDad said...

I believe you are tricking us with a giant novelty pen!

Monica said...

reader stands are only good for putting up stickers these days. i was kind of creeped out by the lack of heft last time i picked one up. honestly i don't even see the new city anywhere anymore. it was a HUGE deal years ago when the format changed. we never really looked back.

dmarks said...

" newspapers are becoming more and more mouthpieces of their owners -- hence not balanced and un-biased fact reporters (see the New York Post again)."

They always were mouthpieces of their owners. The NYT no more balanced and unbiased than the NY Post. Just a different bias than the Post, that's all.

Hot Lemon said...

how much of what's left is advertising??

Beth said...

Sadly, we've had just one major daily in Atlanta for maybe fifteen years. And, thus, the Sunday paper is lame, limp, filled with little content.

Natalie said...

I miss the old reader, although the new format is easier to hold. I think The Onion is doing well with the young crowd but it's not exactly a "real paper".

Tenacious S said...

I hate the new Reader. I want my old multi-sectioned paper back, dammit!

vikkitikkitavi said...

I miss the Reader. The LA Weekly is good, but it's no Reader.

cheer34 said...

I get our local paper for 3 reasons, the death notices ( it's a genealogy thing), the comics, and local sports. The news content is old, usually a day behind the TV news reports, and the advertising takes up about 3/4 of the paper. I read online to get most of my news. Happy New Year

Johnny Yen said...

The Sun-Times seems to be racing to the bottom even faster than the Trib. Their headlines these days remind me of the tabloid-style headlines of the bad old days when Rupert Murdoch owned it.

That's really a touchstone for our generation, isn't it? I'd check the ads for the West End, the Metro, Gaspar's, etc. Most of those clubs are gone.

The kindle is intriguing, isn't it?

Someday, I'll probably go all electronic, but for now, I love having my newspaper made of paper.

Didn't Louisville have a paper published by the same family that publishes the New York Times?

I read the New York Times about equally online and in paper. For example, I just checked the results of the Michigan primary online.

Here in Chicago, both of the dailies have alternate versions oriented toward young people. They're awful, of course. They use a lot of slang and, like you mentioned, questionable language. I personally think that their strategy failed-- they give these papers away free. So that cuts into their subscriptions, and dilutes the ad sales for the main papers. Lots of bad decisions.

I'm right there with you. Given a choice, I'll take a paper, but I like the immediacy of the online news source.

I find the lack of reading and the lack of interest in general knowledge in many young people (not all the them, by any means) disturbing too.

I know you have stopped subscribing, but did you see the explanatory editorial on Kristol last week? It was interesting-- they made sure to point out that they had to correct major errors in his facts. They drew an analogy to their hiring of William Safire years ago-- how Safire at first derided concern over Watergate, though he eventually admitted he was wrong.

Like you, I have contempt for Kristol. He makes Safire look like a bleeding heart. I didn't cancel my subscription, though, because the New York Times, whatever flaws it has, is still so much better than the Tribune and Sun Times here in Chicago. And I'm still getting it for my teacher rate (1/2 price).

With the announcement at Macworld today, that added to it-- movies online (though Netflix had started this).

It's funny how much my life revolves around digital technology that barely existed ten years ago. I listen to Satellite radio online when I'm in the house (a perk you get if you subscribe to online radio). I read email, the news all day. Tonight, on the way home from the gym, I picked up a gallon of milk, and paid for it with a touch of my fingerprint. It's a brave new world.

Skylers Dad-
You busted me!

I can only find the New City at one place-- the Foremost liquor store I buy wine at, where I also usually pick the Reader up. I'm amazed that the New City is still around. It usually only has one or two articles in it now.

I've got to disagree. I don't buy the "liberal bias" argument. The New York Times has, for the most part, hard news and standards. I can't say the same for the Post.

Hot Lemon-
Good question.

Back in the 90's, I published one issue of a 'zine, my friend Mark, who had a lot of experience in advertising and publications, told me that each issue should be 50% advertising. I was incredulous, but I grabbed a handful of magazines and newspapers, and realized he was right. Except for Vanity Fair. I swear, it's 85% advertising.

That is sad.

In Tom Robbins' Still Life With Woodpecker, there's a little soliloquy about how the big fat Sunday paper saves us from the doldrums of Sunday. Without the big fat Sunday paper, all we'll have left is brunch with old friends-- thought that's pretty good consolation.

The tabloid format is easier, isn't it? You're way too young to remember, but back in the late seventies or early eighties, the Tribune had a series of ads showing readers how to fold the paper in quarters to make it easier to read on the bus or train. This was a serious issue-- the Sun Times tended to be the city paper and the Trib the suburban paper, and this was part of it.

The Onion also does pretty well with us oldsters. It's pretty damned funny. It's not hard news, but the interviews are great.

I know! I also want all the great old punk clubs back that we'd use the Reader to check the line-up at every weekend!

I'm curious to check out the Bay area free papers next time I'm there. They have like five of them. I wonder if there's been a die-off of a couple of them.

That's one of the drawbacks of the New York Times. No comics, though they have a sampling of political comics from around the country on Sunday in their Opinions section.

dmarks said...

I know many who accuse the NYT of right-wing. I wasn't being specific about its bias: just that it has one, and is better at hiding it than the sloppier tabloid-shape "Post" etc. I'm hard pressed to think of any publication without bias.

Grant Miller said...

NewsPAPERS are dying. If not dead.

News reporting is and always will be around. The quality, although, will always be in flux.

Grant Miller said...

And my guess is Chicago will end up like other big cities where one corporation owns both papers with independent newsrooms.