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“If newspapers are dead, why did Murdoch and Fox News bet the bank on buying The Wall Street Journal?”
TC: That’s the perception across the country. But people who say that are shortsighted or ignorant.
They’re basing their reactions to what they hear about the large metro dailies around the country, shedding employees, drowning in debt, losing circulation and advertising. But that is just a small part of the American newspaper industry.
TC: Yes. Did you know there are 200 newspapers in Oklahoma — most of them weeklies — not counting numerous free circulation papers? In America, there are about 1,400 dailies and more than 7,000 weeklies.
The big metros make up only a small percentage. Many of the smaller ones are growing, healthy businesses. Do you know that more people subscribe to weekly newspapers now than they do daily papers?
Why? Local, communitybased news. The smaller dailies are also flourishing where they have vibrant communities, according to Mark Thomas, executive director of the Oklahoma Press Association.
But isn’t the Internet a serious challenge?
TC: Yes, it is. We are seeing a cultural shift in how we get information and pay for it. The old “model,” as the gurus call it, was that 75% of newspaper income and 100% of TV income came from advertising.
The Internet has changed all that. We want everything instantaneously and brief and free. Newspapers, and broadcast, and radio, and everyone, are scrambling to adapt to find the answers.
It’s a mistake to think a new technology will kill off a previous one. It didn’t happen with radio or TV … media adapted and changed, because journalism has always been a child of technology. Papers that don’t adapt will die.
Almost every Oklahoma newspaper I know has a website, used in a variety of ways. The Oklahoman won a national Innovator of the Year award for its work in video and digital production. Tulsa World has instituted a pay wall, as has The New York Times. Small newspapers are doing exciting things with digital, and still printing a paper.
I admit, there will be fewer newspapers — as we know them — in the future. In fact, the days of “mass communication” are virtually over. Thus, big newspapers that don’t adapt will suffer. Broadcast execs predict the end of network news within five years.
Many newspapers may become completely digital, but it will be a while.
In Oklahoma, I think we’ll eventually have about 70 newspapers, mainly because of dwindling rural population. You will also see more specialized, niche publications, like Oklahoma Gazette or Journal Record or OKC Friday.
You really think the newspaper business is going to survive?
TC: Yes, I do, in a multitude of forms. Case in point: The daily website of The Newseum in D.C. carries the front pages of hundreds of newspapers in this country and around the world.
Early Monday, May 2, I checked how papers covered bin Laden. I typed in the link. It froze. The site crashed at least twice: the first time with more than 2,800 hits a second at about 3 a.m., largely from Europe waking up, and then after 6. It was slow much later in the day.
Demand for the printed page soared, a newsstand at the National Press Building in Washington sold out of nearly every newspaper by noon Monday. Copies of The Wall Street Journal and the New York Post sold out at several places.
If newspapers are dead, why did Murdoch of News Corp. and Fox News bet the bank on buying The Wall Street Journal? If newspapers are dead, why did the Sequoyah County Times in Sallisaw, a twice-a-week newspaper buying other small newspapers, sink a lot of money in buying new presses?
There is still a huge demand for print. Yes, the younger generations are ignoring it, and there are a lot of problems to work out to continue to pay for quality journalism, but if you’re serious about business, and your community, you rely on print.
As bin Laden demonstrated, people want to touch, to hold, to read news in more depth than you can get in bullets. The New York Times doubled or tripled the number of newsstand copies it printed for several markets, including New York, Washington, Boston and San Francisco. The Washington Post said it printed an additional 70,000 copies, which is about double its normal print run, excluding home subscribers. USA Today added roughly 200,000 copies.
Would you invest in the newspaper business?
TC: It’s like anything else. It depends on the newspapers and the communities.
But Jeff Mayo, who gave up an attorney’s job in Seattle to come back to Sallisaw, and is nationally recognized as one of the smartest newspaper people in the country, said of the demand for print on the day after bin Laden’s death: “It’s great to see print demonstrating it can be compelling.”