Editor’s note: This column comes in response to last week’s news that several journalists were laid off at the Las Cruces Sun-News and El Paso Times and was part of a Facebook discussion about the topic.
COMMENTARY: After spending more than 50 years in the business of newspapers/journalism, here are my views on the key reasons that the newspaper industry has been in decline:
1. Because newspapers produced such high profit margins, they became highly-leveraged acquisition targets by impersonal financial conglomerates whose primary interest in the newspaper business was in producing consistent, high profits.
2. Corporate business owners did not, and do not, understand the unique aspect of newspapers, in that a newspaper is an extremely demanding “manufacturing” business that must create a totally new product every day, and must maintain a distribution system that provides the ability to deliver a new daily product to every home and business in the community they serve… before 7 a.m., seven days a week.
3. Out-of-town, “non-newspaper” corporate owners have never understood or cared much that a newspaper must be the heart and soul of a community, and that the newspaper is a community’s textbook of living history.
4. For decades, journalism schools across the country have failed to recognize the true value and sustainability of newspapers, nor have they trained their graduates how to successfully design, produce and manage a successful newspaper. As a freshman in college in 1965, I was admonished by my journalism adviser to avoid pursuing a newspaper career because newspapers would cease to exist within the next decade. (Not very encouraging 50 years ago. Unfortunately, college students today are starting to believe this is true.)
5. Traditional advertisers moved away from newspapers due to exorbitant, unjustifiable advertising rates. Newspaper owners arrogantly failed to recognize they were “shooing away the geese that were laying the golden eggs.”
6. Newspapers did little to tell their own story to advertisers about the value of newspaper readers to the companies that relied on advertising response. When paid distribution of newspapers began to decline, billions of advertising dollars were transferred to television — where, ironically, the audience losses were actually much greater than the reduction of newspaper readership. (Also, television advertising was more “glamorous” and the television executives were less arrogant than the newspaper owners.)
In summary, newspapers today, by being “corporatized,” have generally made themselves less relevant to their readers by reducing local content, reducing the size and number of pages, writing misleading headlines, politicizing general news, terrible grammar, failed proofreading, misspelled names, late or failed deliveries, ridiculous early deadlines that prevent them from reporting in tomorrow’s edition anything that happens this evening, and staff who don’t even read their own product.
David McCollum has worked in all areas of the newspaper industry, from delivery carrier to corporate publisher. While publisher/president of the Las Cruces Sun-News from 1996 to 2000, the newspaper had more than 150 employees and for three consecutive years was the fastest-growing (percentage-wise) paid daily newspaper in the United States. In 2003 McCollum formed FIG Publications and purchased the struggling Las Cruces Bulletin, where over 10 years, the company grew rapidly, acquired other failing newspapers and generated nearly 100 jobs for the New Mexico economy.