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Beginning your morning with a cup of coffee and your newspaper could soon be a ritual of the past.
Declining circulation, slumping revenues and the increasing popularity of blogs and online news sources are rapidly changing the newspaper industry. Newspapers have been forced to slash jobs, reduce services, close entirely or, in some cases, throw away their print product for an online-only edition. Will our computer screens soon be the only place we find the news?
"The focus on content, not medium, will define the future debate over who will provide what news and in what form," Winnipeg Free Press columnist Dan Lett wrote in a March 9th blog. "Right now, I try to take a glass-half full view of the situation. (And seriously, who expects me to take a more cynical and objective look at things? I love my job, and have some affection for my paycheque. Sue me.) Right now, more people read what I write than ever before, and not because we're actually printing more papers."
Despite Lett's optimism, it is obvious that the industry is being affected. Craigslist and similar websites have cut into newspaper's old standby revenue stream - classified ads. A Pew Research Study showed that newspapers in 2008 had a 55 per cent "penetration" with people born before 1946. For Generation X, born between 1965 and 1976, newspaper use is only 33 per cent. The rate for those born in 1977 or later is only 27 per cent.
There have been some serious consequences from this change in readership. On Feb. 27, the Rocky Mountain News closed its doors, leaving the Denver Post as the lone daily operating in the city. On March 10, McClatchy Co. announced it was cutting 1,600 jobs. The Sacramento-based company owns 30 daily newspapers, including the Sacramento Bee and the Kansas City (Mo.) Star. In less than a year, McClatchy has reduced its work force by a third, according to an Associated Press article. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer was put up for sale on Jan. 9, but with no buyer yet found it will likely cease printing soon. However, the Seattle Times, in a March 7 story, reported that the P-I will continue as an online-only publication. The newsroom staff is to be slashed from about 170 employees to just 22. The Times and P-I have competing newsrooms but under a joint operating agreement both newspapers' advertising, production, marketing and circulation is run by the Seattle Times. The Times has not yet announced if the changes at the P-I will affect its staff.
The P-I is of course not the first news source to be an online-only venture. A number of news outlets, such as liberal news site The Huffington Post, do not have print counterparts.
In the past 15 months, a pair of daily newspapers in the U.S. Midwest went down the road the P-I appears headed: stopping the presses and having a web-only presence. On the final day of 2007, the Cincinnati Post and its sister publication the Kentucky Post closed. However, a day later the KyPost.com website was launched with a veteran Post editor as managing editor.
In Madison, Wis., the Capital Times, an afternoon daily, stopped printing last April and unveiled an upgraded web operation. However, both of these papers have subsidized themselves with other, more traditional media revenue streams. The KyPost operates out of the WCPO television station offices. Stories from WCPO's reporter for the Northern Kentucky area are featured frequently on the website. Meanwhile, the Capital Times has a joint operating agreement with the Wisconsin State Journal where it receives half the combined profits from the two papers while generating a small amount of the revenue. As well, after it stopped publishing a daily print edition, the Times created two weekly tabloid newspapers - one focused on news and opinion, while the other tackles arts and entertainment - that are inserted into the Journal.
There is also the question of whether people want to go to an online newspaper for their news. According to the Pew Research Center study, only 13 per cent of all web users go to newspaper websites when looking for news.
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