Newspapers fight back

Tired of all the “print is dead” headlines, a group of newspaper executives is fighting back.  The Newspaper Project, launched today, will counter what organizers call “the misrepresentation of newspapers and their continuing importance to the public, to the marketplace and to democracy.”

The group is running print and online ads promoting the view that newspapers are very much alive and growing, if you consider the print and online audience together.

Leading the drive is Donna Barrett, CEO of an Alabama-based community newspaper group and president of the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association. Her mantra, according to Editor & Publisher:

Newspapers don’t have an audience problem. Newspapers have a revenue problem, driven primarily by the recession.

That first assertion is debatable. All traditional news media have an audience problem, don’t they? And the revenue problem isn’t just driven by the economy. A shrinking audience (and yes, the audience IS shrinking) means you can’t charge advertisers as much as you could when their ads reached more people.

While it’s true that the overall audience for newspapers on the Web grew last year, that may be due in part to the extraordinary level of interest in the US election. And despite the online audience growth, revenues were actually down, according to MediaPost.

The decline in online revenues, while small in dollar terms, is still a crushing blow to the newspaper industry, as the digital medium held out the primary hope for newspapers, which have seen their print ad revenues implode due to Internet competition.

I do applaud another newspaper initiative that caught my eye today: the executive editor of the Tacoma News-Tribune, Karen Peterson, is trying to publicly shame Seattle broadcasters into giving credit for stories lifted from the paper.

We think it’s important for two reasons: First, you should know where your news is coming from so you can judge its credibility; and second, it’s a professional courtesy to give credit where credit is due.

Absolutely right. TV newsrooms have much smaller staffs than newspapers, so they can’t cover every story the paper does. But that doesn’t mean they should feel  free to lift stories from the paper and use them without attribution. That’s stealing, and it needs to stop.


Reason for optimism?

Ronald Reagan used to tell the story of a young boy, whistling and grinning as he shoveled out a stable full of manure.  Asked why was he so happy doing such a stinky, thankless job, the boy replied, “There’s got to be a pony in here somewhere.”

It’s tough to keep your attitude sunny when everything around you is gloomy.  But veteran network producer Tom Bettag believes there’s good news for some journalists in today’s awful economic climate:

Bettag says being fired in 1986 by CBS News, where he was executive producer of the Evening News with Dan Rather, is the best thing that ever happened to him. He went on to produce Nightline for ABC News for 14 years, and then moved with anchor Ted Koppel to Discovery where they produced a series of documentaries.  Now that Koppel and Discovery have parted ways, Bettag is focused on an effort to promote news literacy.