Michael Epps

Does everyone still know what a newspaper is?

The downfall of newspapers is such an interesting topic.

It hits home for me because my father worked at the Detroit News for over 20 years. He talks all the time about how the newspaper industry screwed up when content became available online. How these publications chose not to charge much money for people to read their content, because they thought the internet was not going to blow up the way they did.

They were wrong.

By the time they recognized how things were going, it was already too late. They could not charge as much for their content as they needed to, and things went downhill from there.

I always think about this when the topic of print journalism comes up. It’s such a fascinating thing that happened. Yes, it has not worked out well for the newspapers. Another example came last month, when Gannett, BuzzFeed, and the Huffington Post all put forward massive layoffs. This article, by Jeremy Littau of Slate.com, gives a great insight into how newspaper companies “failed to adapt” as technology entered the picture.

Littau talks a lot about the economic side of things that many people just aren’t aware of. I was one of those people before reading this. He says that so many people jumped into the newspaper industry to start and own publications, because they were real money makers after the printing press. But these massive revenues started to drop, and “investors’ expectation of hefty profits” simply stopped coming to fruition.

Before the internet, newspapers were the source for people to receive news about their community/society, and the adverting revenue followed that “pseudo-monopoly.” With the internet, a new source of competition came in. Littau mentions that it wasn’t just that the companies gave away their content for free, like my dad always says, but that the internet eliminated their local monopoly with their local readers. They lost the connection with the community, and it became a free-for-all. With no consistency, the revenue lost its consistency as well. 

It’s also a super interesting fact that between 2000 and 2008, advertising revenue for newspapers dropped 60%! That’s insane. It’s interesting how the decline was gradual for many years, and then it “fell off a cliff” around the Great Recession. He then talks about how the reaction these companies had to this trend only made things worse. The massive cutbacks to resources and staffs did not help.

“Cuts led to loss of quality, which drove away readers. Fewer readers meant fewer sales and subscriptions, which led to less ad revenue and thus more newsroom cuts.” He says Phil Meyer at the University of North Carolina called it the “death spiral of news.”

That takes us to 2019, where Gannett and other major news companies continue to fall into this death spiral. It’s not pretty, and sooner or later there’s not going to be anything else that will fall victim to this spiral. It will take away everything, and print journalism as we know it will be gone. Depressing, right?

3 thoughts on “Does everyone still know what a newspaper is?

  1. It’s really cool that you have a unique perspective because of your dad! He must have a particularly interesting point of view because he’s a designer. Many of their jobs have changed from art on pages to interactive art on screen, which can be a challenge for those who have spent their whole lives doing page design.

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  2. I can imagine you have heard many things from your dad about the change he has actually gotten to experience first hand working at a newspaper. Truthfully, I can imagine how hearing some of his experiences may have even deterred you from pursuing journalism in the first place. While I agree with you that the cuts and lack of funding is disheartening as someone interested in the industry, I do think that there will always be a place for reliable journalism in this world. People want to hear the truth. They want to understand what is going on, and as time goes on, they will realize that social media isn’t the way to do that. Our world is drowning in information, and we need a moment to come up for air. In most people’s eyes it makes no sense to read a 500+ word story right now, no matter the source, if they can get the same basic information from a 200 character tweet.
    The industry looks like its falling apart a bit because it is transitioning. This is a period of adaptation where media outlets are fighting to pursue any innovation that might solve these issues. I agree, print journalism as we know it might be gone. But rather than look at this as depressing, I’m going to choose to look at it as opportunity – because that space will be replaced by something new and more effective, and I hope to have the skills that will allow me to thrive in the new industry.

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  3. That’s crazy how you have seen the way the newspaper industry fell first-hand with your father. I was also unaware of the economics behind the print journalism crash until reading this article. It wasn’t just online that killed print, it was the people who put their money and belief into an industry without knowing all the facts or preparing for change. The idea of print journalism being “no more” seems intense, and I can’t imagine a world where there’s no newspapers on coffee tables or on newsstands. I can only hope we don’t reach that point.

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