Adbusters

The Death of Print

Why the bottom fell out.

“Every time a newspaper dies, even a bad one, the country moves a little closer to authoritarianism; when a great one goes, like the New York Herald Tribune, history itself is denied a devoted witness.” —Richard Kluger, Pulitzer Prize-winning author.

The print industry I grew up admiring is dying. But even as its own narcissistic headlines bemoan the death of print, the industry is still trying to hang in there … even if it means slashing its integrity by going to bed with the advertisers instead of the readers.

As a neophyte journalist, the print industry I am clumsily ambling into is clinging to the almost-extinct talons of corporate advertisers. The New Yorker tells us that a quarter of all newspaper jobs have disappeared since 1990. Print editions are hemorrhaging readers. The money has dried up as the Infobahn soaks up the attention of the readers and, more importantly to the future of the publication, advertisers.

Newspapers originally fought hard to hold public figures accountable – they broke Watergates-esque investigative pieces and generally sought to serve the public as the respected fourth estate – and the industry grew with its successes. Newspapers were a trusted source and circulations climbed to record numbers.

As readership grew, advertisers, of course, ate it up. This is where the leak started. In order to sell newspapers, the industry shifted its accountability to the advertiser. They were the ones now paying the salaries. The print world carved out its own niche to better serve its advertisers, not its readers. Newspapers shifted to a 60/40 ad-to-content ratio, which has now fallen to 70/30 or worse in some cases. The print model became fundamentally flawed. It was just a waiting game until the bottom fell out.

It was poor judgment to build a public enterprise on an advertiser-dependent structure. Of course there was going to be a time when the advertisers jumped ship. In this year’s first quarter, US newspaper print advertising sales plummeted by nearly 30 percent, according to the Newspaper Association of America. And thanks to Craigslist and Kijiji, the classified ads – once newspapers’ bread and butter – plunged by 42 percent. It’s the biggest fall since 1971 (the earliest date figures were collected). And it’s no surprise that the advertisers dumped their coin into the Internet. Some $1 billion in American advertising shifted from print and TV to the web in 2008.

Relying on an advertiser-supported business model is archaic, not to mention dangerous. If it is to survive, the print industry needs to revisit the era when they answered to the reader. When they fought to bring down crooked politicians instead of fighting to clutch onto advertisers. As we can all see now, the advertisers were never loyal companions anyway.

Ryan Bolton’s writing has appeared in publications like the National Post, Ottawa Citizen, Montreal Gazette, The Dominion and Journalists for Human Rights. He is currently an editor and writer with Free the Children in Toronto.

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46 comments on the article “The Death of Print”

Displaying 31 - 40 of 46

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Nepheligenous

The "death" of a big newspaper can hopefully direct people's attention to local, non-corporate-sponsored, non-embedded news outlets. The Nation, The Progressive, Random Lengths, In These Times and a whole host of other print media are thirsting for subscription dollars. Not a bad time to look into them. The ones to which I have subscriptions have online versions also, so take your pick.

Nepheligenous

The "death" of a big newspaper can hopefully direct people's attention to local, non-corporate-sponsored, non-embedded news outlets. The Nation, The Progressive, Random Lengths, In These Times and a whole host of other print media are thirsting for subscription dollars. Not a bad time to look into them. The ones to which I have subscriptions have online versions also, so take your pick.

darcdante

Yeah, we totally need a return to the newspaper's heydays of great men like William Hearst. (tongue in cheek, sorry, but I agree with commenter Huey: "answering to the reader" doesn't mean much, historically speaking)

darcdante

Yeah, we totally need a return to the newspaper's heydays of great men like William Hearst. (tongue in cheek, sorry, but I agree with commenter Huey: "answering to the reader" doesn't mean much, historically speaking)

Mike_009

I am afraid that the death of the newspaper has led to a large percentage or the population being less informed. I just hope that many will get the credible news from other sources like the internet. Twitter Marketing Strategy

Mike_009

I am afraid that the death of the newspaper has led to a large percentage or the population being less informed. I just hope that many will get the credible news from other sources like the internet. Twitter Marketing Strategy

Alex Wu

Newspapers papers are far from dead. They just need to change their business model since their main revenue source are from classified ads. They will have to focus more on their niche (say, local news coverage, or particular interest group) where there are less competition and not try to cover everything that one can already read on the internet. On the web, free classifieds are eating into Newspaper's pie, newspaper needs to combat that, by building up their presence on the web and generate interest and traffic to their site.

Alex Wu

Newspapers papers are far from dead. They just need to change their business model since their main revenue source are from classified ads. They will have to focus more on their niche (say, local news coverage, or particular interest group) where there are less competition and not try to cover everything that one can already read on the internet. On the web, free classifieds are eating into Newspaper's pie, newspaper needs to combat that, by building up their presence on the web and generate interest and traffic to their site.

Jonathan

Newspapers = Dead.

biggest problem isn't the loss of advertisers but the content: Why would any person pay to get NEWS, when printed, it's already out of date, esp. when anyone can go online and get up-to-the-second live news feeds. In the NEWSPAPER industry - since it's inception - has always been about "who reports the latest news the quickest" and the Internet has it beat ten fold.

Jonathan

Newspapers = Dead.

biggest problem isn't the loss of advertisers but the content: Why would any person pay to get NEWS, when printed, it's already out of date, esp. when anyone can go online and get up-to-the-second live news feeds. In the NEWSPAPER industry - since it's inception - has always been about "who reports the latest news the quickest" and the Internet has it beat ten fold.

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