As we know, the death of the American newspaper is fast approaching.
Specifically, the paper editions of newspapers are dying. Readers and advertisers are migrating to the papers’ Web sites or to other sources of information on the Internet, thus reducing revenue of the print editions. One day the papers will no longer be on my driveway before dawn, and I will be getting all the news from my computer and my iPhone.
Part of Boyarsky's concern is based on the content of a story from the first week in December by Editor & Publisher about recent reports from the credit evaluation group, Fitch Reports:
"Fitch believes more newspapers and newspaper groups will default, be shut down and be liquidated in 2009 and several cities could go without a daily print newspaper by 2010," the Chicago-based credit ratings firm said in a report on the outlook for U.S. media and entertainment.
Fitch is generally pessimistic across the board, assigning negative outlets to nearly all sectors from Yellow Pages to radio and TV and theme parks. But the newspaper industry is the most at risk of defaulting, it says.
"Much of the business risk for the media sector is likely to continue to be concentrated within the newspaper sub-sector," the report says. "Fitch expects newspaper industry revenue growth will be negative for the foreseeable future as both ad pricing and linage will be under pressure within each of the four main components of newspaper companies' revenue streams: circulation and local, classified and national advertising. Newsprint costs could rise, and it could be difficult to offset revenue declines with cost cuts."
Fitch rates the debt of two newspaper companies, The McClatchy Co. and Tribune Co. as junk, with serious possibilities of default. It also assigns a negative outlook to both the companies and the newspaper sector, meaning their credit ratings are likely to deteriorate further.
Last week, Anchorage Daily News' publisher Patrick Dougherty announced the newest round of changes at the paper, opening with this snide comment:
"The first anniversary of the current recession is this month. That's according to recent pronouncements by economists, who always seem to be at their best when predicting the past."
Dougherty could have easily added himself to the category of those who "seem to be at their best when predicting the past."
Dougherty goes on to describe a series of downsizing moves being undergone or planned for the near future at the ADN. They all seem necessary, if the largest, most influential Alaska newspaper is to survive.
I've been highly critical of Dougherty, his hubris and conceit here in the past. I still am. His announcement from last week seems quite humble when compared to his inflated claims from late last year, that, "if we don’t do the story, it may not get done."
Throughout 2008, Alaska bloggers, especially given our meager resources, and the intruding reality that most of us have day jobs outside of journalism, have covered many stories that were not getting done by the ADN, or other traditional media outlets here. When journalists, authors and videographers came from all over the planet to cover Sarah Palin in September and October, they certainly didn't go to Patrick Dougherty to get the kind of quality assistance we showed them time after time.
Frequent commenter at PA, and Blue Oasis contributor, PolarBear, made an interesting comment here, regarding Dougherty and the ADN, in December 2007:
Dougherty is a suit. He arrived at mid-level management in the McClatchy heirarchy by climbing a corporate ladder in competition with other mid-level managers, not a journalism ladder, and not a community ladder. The terms of Dougherty's career have to do with advertising revenue and readership. Now what does it tell you when Dougherty is compelled, without any competition, to reorganize the format of ADN's print and web content? Most likely, Dougherty is getting the McClatchy word about their ratio of revenue-to-staff & fixed costs. Dougherty's thinking is vertical, and it shows.
You, Mr. Munger, own your own business in Alaska, and all that implies. So long as you clearly understand your service and the terms of engagement, you are always going to have the quality advantage over a McClatchy operation and the Doughertys of the world. Heck, that is how the old underdog ADN won the contest with the Times.
You are flirting with that which ADN and the new owners of KTUU will increasingly need - quality content. They do not understand how to get quality content from Alaska without expensive overhead. ADN and AP and Reuters and KTUU will not be your competition - they are going to be your market.
With respect, rather than pounding on Dougherty, perhaps a little thinking about how you could help solve his problem, as a reliable high quality source of real, statewide Alaska news, about real people and real communities would be in order. However you form it, the 'Alaska Progressive' could be a substantial, high quality byline. Darwin rules.
I have to admit, that during 2008 Progressive Alaska no more met PolarBear's hopes than the ADN met those of many of their readers. But something along the lines of what PolarBear mentions did go down. For a while.
As the ADN experimented with and got used to more on-line presence and how that works, between mid-2007 and mid-2008, the articles there, the political blog, and the new Alaska Newsreader began mentioning Alaska political blogs more and more often. But in the second half of 2008, those mentions began declining precipitously, exactly when it was obvious to our expanded readership that we were covering more of the story than Alaska's traditional media was able to.
It was almost as if somebody in the editorial spaces at the ADN just wanted us to go away.
We won't though. The ADN's and the already-defunct Anchorage Times' successors are already cranking out excellent (The Alaska Dispatch) and indifferent (The Alaska Standard) content every day. The Alaska Report is hanging in there.
Dougherty's most desperate, craven survival move in 2008 has undoubtedly been the ADN's decision - I'm certain it was conscious on some upper level there - to get as much play out of Sarah Palin's political ascendancy as humanly possible. The fluff, the lack of follow-ups, the paucity of any in-depth reporting whatsoever on how she has not only become the biggest political laughingstock of the 21st century, but the most divisive new force in right-wing GOP campaigning in years, have been disturbing. Beside those two elements, the fact that one person has become both of those characters is worth a Pulitzer Prize to the first writer to wrap her or his pen around the concept.
Maybe Dougherty's decision to keep fluffing Palin as much as possible - and then some - at the expense of in-depth coverage of her obvious shortcomings have helped keep ad revenue up, thereby saving a few jobs at the ADN for a few more months. I doubt it, though.
And I seriously doubt that Patrick Dougherty is up to the job of saving the Anchorage Daily News.