Friday, June 1, 2012

Newspapers: Love 'em, leave 'em

       For those of us who love reading newspapers, who have worked at newspapers, the shock waves keep coming.    
        You would think that after four-plus years of layoffs, buyouts, staff reductions, furloughs -- misery after misery -- we would have grown accustomed to it. Not so.
       When the announcement came a week ago that the (New Orleans) Times-Picayune -- and the papers in Birmingham, Mobile and Huntsville, Ala. -- were going to three-days-a-week publications, it was stunning news.
       In a shrinking newspaper business, this -- to me -- is the next evolution. Short of papers simply folding or going online only, this is what is going to happen. How soon before weeklies-only? How soon before this happens in Shreveport ... or Houston ... or Dallas ... or New York City ... or Fort Worth?
       Journalism jobs are going to be lost in New Orleans (and the other places), perhaps as soon as next week. I've got friends who have been writing sports in the Times-Picayune for years, but how much longer? Bad news might be coming for them, but it has come for friends all over the country.
       Call it sad. Call it heartbreaking.
       Call it reality. This is our newspaper world today. We need to adjust our mind-set.
       I love the feel of the newspaper in my hands. A lot of people in our age range do, and have for years and years.
       I've been a regular newspaper reader since I was a little kid, reading my dad's sports newspaper in Amsterdam as soon as I could read a little. Loved to look at the Monday morning recaps of the soccer games in Holland, at the coverage of the Tour de France (especially the daily maps showing the route of the world's biggest bicycle race), the news of speed skating (my first sports hero was Kees Broekman, the Dutchman who was the second-best skater in the world in the early 1950s).
       In Shreveport, we started subscribing to the afternoon Journal in 1956. Couldn't read much English yet, but I would take the paper and spread it on the floor, on my hands and knees leaning over the paper, I'd see about the Shreveport Sports and superhero Ken Guettler (62 home runs that year, a Texas League record) and the New York Yankees and the great Mickey Mantle.
       To think that I would someday work for the newspaper, that I would paid for covering sports, for helping put together a sports section.
        Think I'm not sentimental about newspapers?
        But the reality is (1) the Internet has cut greatly into newspaper reading; (2) people 50 (maybe 55) and older read newspapers; people younger than that don't; they get their news from TV, the Internet or their phones; (3) the newspaper business isn't a good place to be these days.
        On the Internet, I will read about LSU, the Yankees and the Dutch soccer team because I'm not going to get much on them in the Fort Worth paper. But I don't want to sit at the computer or go to my phone and endlessly read stuff.  Not part of my routine.
        Anyone who knows me well knows I almost always have a stack of newspapers dating three years, three months, three weeks, three days ... whatever, and I intend to read them. I will read almost every word in sports; I like any political news/analysis, and I'll peruse every page, read the things I like.
        Admittedly, I underestimated the Internet. I thought the people who left the Star-Telegram (and other places) for jobs with the .com sites were foolish. I don't think that now.
         My son, who is 38, will read anything on LSU football -- all on computer or on his phone. Can't remember the last time I saw him hold a newspaper and read. My good friend Jim Pruett says his son Jed, a brilliant college student and recent University of Tennessee grad, gets all his news from computers/phone.
         Our son-in-law, Russell Smith, who is a radio sports talk show producer/host in Knoxville, is an exception, though. He still subscribes to the Knoxville News Sentinel, and actually reads it. Way to go, Russell.
       So the reality is that newspapers everywhere are losing staffers and losing circulation. That really hit home Thursday when I received the monthly (Shreveport) Times Oldtimers Society newsletter from Allan K. Lazarus, the retired longtime managing editor. He listed the circulation figures for the Gannett newspapers in Louisiana.
        They are miniscule, compared to the "old days."
        Part of Laz's note:  "The latest circulation figures for The Times (from the Audit Bureau of Circulations as seen on the Internet) are 34,800 daily and 49,299 Sunday. The numbers are for the six months ending March 31. ... The numbers are for print only.
      "Didn’t Times Sunday circulation hit 125,000 once?"
        The Times-Picayune  has always been Louisiana's biggest (and probably best) newspaper. Might not be now, though, because New Orleans lost much population base and advertising base after Hurricane Katrina, perhaps leaving the Baton Rouge Advocate as the state's premier paper.
        But it was Times-Picayune sports that I read in our school library almost every day in high school, and got to know the New Orleans schools -- the public-school district, the vaunted Catholic League schools.
       It was the Times-Picayune that I thought had the best sports writers in the state (other than the Shreveport Journal). Just as I loved when Shreveport schools beat New Orleans school in anything, I loved beating the T-P in the sports writers' contests -- and we did much of the time I was at the Journal (1982-87).   
        So last week's news on the T-P three-days-a-week reduction really stung. Makes me wonder if print newspapers will survive at all down the road.
        We have to adjust. It's a new world. I'm trying to wean myself from the daily newspaper habit, trying to be more selective in my reading choices.
         Look at it this way -- at least we'll be saving on lots of ink and paper.
         But it still doesn't feel very good for us old newspaper people.

1 comment:

  1. Old timer that I am, I read the print editions of the NYT, the WSJ, and the Austin Statesman every day while eating breakfast. Will a drip of egg yolk harm my smart phone? Or, worse yet, hot coffee? But I am not a total dinosaur -- my cell phone auto-dial is programmed with pauses and password to check my office voice mail, and I listen to my messages on cell phone speaker as a 21st century multi-tasker while loading the dishwasher.