Wednesday, July 19, 2006

New Downsizing At NYT, LAT And Wall St. Journal

Newspapers, even the most prestigious in the country, are in retreat, and I'm sure the readers are noticing. The danger is that the steps being taken at the New York Times, the L.A. Times and the Wall Street Journal will result in new declines of circulation and spin the press into ever greater difficulties.

The New York Times has announced it will reduce the width of its paper by one and a half inches. Even if it follows through on a pledge to increase the daily number of pages, the news hole will still be reduced by 5%.

The L.A. Times, meanwhile, announces that in its ever less ambitious Sports section, it will no longer regularly cover the metropolitan area's ice hockey teams when they are out of town. The number of readers who follow ice hockey is probably a fairly small percentage of the paper's total readers, but, still, just as with those who use the paper's truncated Sunday TV guide, there is bound to be resentment. The TV guide was downsized dramatically earlier in the year, and there's no longer any late night movies being listed at all.

The Wall Street Journal, in the most shocking of the changes, says it will soon start running advertising on Page 1. Advertisements continually are expanding in the media, and while they are, of course, necessary to sustain media profits, they are still unwelcome in many quarters. I confess I detest ads, and ignore them so much as I can. But the main issue is that, in recent times, in America, the front pages of newspapers have been reserved for news. Even then, the number of actual stories on Page 1 has been reduced by more pictures, summaries and so forth. Now, with advertising headed for Page 1 in the Wall Street Journal, it won't be long before other newspapers follow this bad trend. It does amount to downsizing.

Later today, it was reported in a Chicago business publication, Crain's, that the Chicago Tribune is considering selling advertising on some section front pages. It's not a surprise. Whenever it comes to an idea for reducing the appeal of newspapers, Tribune CEO Dennis FitzSimons will be right there climbing aboard.

The L.A. Times use of two summary pages in Section A also represents downsizing, because it reduces the space allotted to regular articles. It is more an attempt to save money on reporting and editing than it is any attempt to give readers anything they need.

One of the great appeals of newspapers is that they cover the world in detail, and give the readers details of activities that may specially interest them in a way that television can't. No one reads a whole newspaper. Some readers are interested in sports, others in business, others in the movies, and so on. There may be war in the Middle East, but on any given day, most of the readers' time is spent looking at other news and activities. Every time, newspapers are downsized, and things are left uncovered, the appeal of newspapers diminishes.

Even the physical plant of the papers is being pared. So the Tribune Co. announces plans to sell the now-empty Chatsworth printing plant of the L.A. Times, in which so many hopes for increased San Fernando Valley circulation were once placed. And the New York Times announces plans to close a New Jersey printing plant, reducing work force by 250.

The irony is that at the same time, the Internet is actually increasing its display of newspaper articles. Now, when you go to Yahoo, any number of articles on the Mideast drama are posted, almost hourly, and it's possible to read the editorials and articles of British newspapers, the Israeli papers, the French wire service, Agence France Presse, and others that were never available here before, except very belatedly at a few newstands that carry foreign papers. Even though registration is supposedly required, Yahoo is printing at no charge many New York Times and Washington Post articles.

So newspapers seem to be prospering on the Internet, even while they are taking steps that reduce their news holes and their appeal to those paying the money to subscribe. How sad!


Anonymous Fran Kent said...

What the Chicago gang is doing to Pages 2 and 3 may be the most egregiously wrong-headed move they've made. Putting the news in the hands of the entertainment industry is akin to putting Congress in charge of the intelligence effort.

7/19/2006 3:48 PM  

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