21 March 2012

Denver Post Continues Long Painful Newspaper Death March

The Denver Post has cut $500,000 from newsroom and editorial staff in yet another round of layoffs, this time including two of its star columnists, Mike Littwin and Penny Parker. The layoffs notice started going out yesterday and are continuing today.

A few years ago, Denver had two ordinary daily newspapers, the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News, and a free dail as well, the Denver Daily News. The Post and the Rocky first formed a joint operating agreement allowing for two separate papers with consolidated business operations. Then, the Rocky Mountain News died. Then the Denver Daily News died.

The Denver Post, over time, has reduced materially what it offers readers in content as advertising revenues has dried up and circulations have been stagnant or falling. There are fewer news sections (sometimes shorter ones consolidated where once there was a section for each part), there is less content, there is less original reporting, there are fewer comics, and the ads have become more obnoxious (like sticky notes on the front page and wrap around half pages). Subscription rates have gone up in the absence of competition. Behind there scenes, there have been bankrupticies, conslidation in the industry, and debt reorganizations.

The cuts haven't solved the problem, and so there are more cuts. Even some of the nation's most esteemed and widest circulation newspapers are only marginally profitable or incur losses. The Denver Post and its parent company are feeling it along with the rest of the industry.

In the immediate term, there are complaints that the Denver Post could have handled its layoffs in a more graceful way, rather than the usual heartless corporate mindless indifference, but it didn't.

The longer term issue is that nobody has a viable business model for running a major metropolitan daily newspaper even though many people enjoy the service and are willing to pay something for it. The traditional system, in which distribution is sold at distribution cost, and funds to cover operations and profits are derived from advertising revenue seems to be dying a slow and painful death.

Technological changes like the Internet are no doubt a big drive of the change. But, it makes no sense to abolish the Internet to save the pre-Internet newspaper business model.

Honestly, I doubt that a "for profit" model for gathering and distributing news has much of a future in any case. Without people who pay premium prices for the same services and grants, like most arts and cultural non-profits, I don't see much of a future for newspapers.

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