Wednesday, October 12, 2005

This is enough to put me on the happy pills

As journalists, we write, report and stew over the most minute of facts. We're driven crazy, but we like it. Family life for some journalists is (stupidly) neglected in favor of stories about other people we don't know. We chose this life, and its justification is in circulation numbers. We believe thousands of people are reading what WE write. These number show that WE make a difference in the lives of these thousands of people. This justification makes us feel a little better that our loved ones don't see us often enough to actually know us. We had a job and the numbers show the job is successful. Then a story like this comes out and we realize we don't feel so good and we've been lying to ourselves the whole time. According to a study reported on by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, not only are fewer people reading the newspaper, but the average reader age is 55. From the article...

Newspaper readership is down. Fewer young people are picking them up, and the average age of a newspaper reader is now 55, according to a Carnegie Corporation study. Many papers have been losing circulation at alarming rates across all age groups.

Newspaper profits and the stock prices of the companies that own them were also down during the first half of 2005. The biggest newspapers are cutting staffs, closing foreign bureaus and taking other steps to meet their owners' profit goals.

What are newspapers going to be when the 55 year olds are 85 year olds? Will today's 25 year olds be reading then? That is what the people leading this industry are going to have to determine. I am trying to not have a sky is falling attitude about this, but it's worrisome.

When I was 12, I read the newspaper and people in class were convinced I was a genius because I knew what was going on the world. I have known what I wanted to do since I was 10 or so. Now, I am 24. People my age do not read the newspaper. I wasn't expecting to find an industry that is seemingly breathing its dying breaths.

People have told me that the newspaper industry's demise has been rumored for years. That worrying is just me putting undue stress upon myself. That "today's young people" have never read, no matter when "today" is. That we'll be fine. I hope so. I also hope we're not telling ourselves that we'll be fine while the bombs are rapidly descending from the sky.


Newspaper rant:

What needs to be done is better journalism. The focus of this business has fallen singularly into making money. The news hole in so many papers has shrunk to the point that it is an ad paper rather than a newspaper. It needs to at least appear that we care about good journalism. Something that bothers me about this industry is how the bean counters complain and complain while their little gold mines are compiling 20 percent profit margins. But it's not good enough. We need 25 percent profit margins. In a lot of other businesses, eight percent is going great. You know what Gannett pulled in last year? Twenty-nine percent. And one of their biggest papers we know and love and provides for my food is in the midst of a newsroom hiring freeze. Knight-Ridder did 19 percent last year, and they're laying off people at some of their papers. What pisses me off more than anything is that the cuts always come from the newsroom. Never, ever will they come from advertising, human relations or the managment offices. I love this business, but it sure knows how to screw you over.


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