Things Always Look Good On Paper?

Another take on the long saga of "are print newspapers dead"?

Before I made my living in front of a microphone and a camera, I delivered newspapers to people's homes.  In fact, I helped pay my way into college doing so.

The paper I delivered, in suburban Cleveland, was the Cleveland Plain Dealer, then-and, at least, until recently, hailed as "Ohio's Largest Newspaper".  I was such a good carrier that most of the people in the neighborhood lamented my leaving to go to college.  I was up weekdays before 5 A.M. (admittedly, a little later on weekends), and my route of more than 60 people was completed in an hour and a half.

At the time (the early '70's), Cleveland still had two daily newspapers.  The other was the Cleveland Press, still a viable newspaper at the time, and, at one time, the city's leader in readership, but beginning to decline by the 1970s.  This past fall, I was able to get a copy of the Press's last edition, published in June of 1982. At that time, I didn't dream that the Plain Dealer, the last remaining paper (there were at least three at one time) in Cleveland, might someday cease to publish as a daily on-print newspaper.

But that day may be coming. Right now, Cleveland is rampant with rumors that its only newspaper might soon publish only three days a week, existing daily only on-line. The reason: more and more people get their news from the web (even if the information isn't only reliable), since it's free and they don't have to pay upwards of a dollar a copy for the daily newspaper.  The Plain Dealer has tried to hold the line on price; its Monday through Saturday paper costs 75 cents. But any increased readership it might be getting is more than offset by a decline in advertising revenue.

(As an aside, I noticed that the Thanksgiving Day editions of the Parkersburg News and Sentinel and The Marietta Times ran readers far more than the normal 50 cents a copy; instead costing as much as $1.75. Did the readers get more for their money? Maybe, if you counted all of the advertising inserts which made up most of the papers' extra weight.)

The situation in Cleveland isn't unique. Several newspapers in recent years have ceased to publish on paper at least once a week.  In nearby Athens, the daily Messenger discontinued its Monday edition earlier this year. And the reason for the rumors about the Plain Dealer are fueled by the fact that the daily newspaper in New Orleans, owned by the same company as the Cleveland newspaper, is now publishing on paper only three times a week.

In other media, you may have heard that Newsweek magazine will no longer be publishing as of early next year, opting instead to put its content completely on-line.

As a broadcaster (who puts his content on-line, including this blog), do I celebrate any of this? No. Not only do I remember my days as a newspaper carrier, I still read newspapers, opting occasionally for the kind I can hold in my hand. I can say, though, that I frequently read newspaper content on-line, particularly out-of-town papers I can't see any other way.

But it appears that if current trends continue, a computer keyboard will be all I will be able to get my hands on.


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