How Soon Will Newspapers Become Extinct?

This week we read about bankruptcy filings by the separate ownership groups that operate the Philadelphia Inquirer and New Haven Register, due to massive debt accumulated when these publishing concerns were taken over. The latest to talk about bankruptcy is the Hearst Corporation, which says it may fold the San Francisco Chronicle, the 12th largest newspaper in the country.

A story in the Asbury Park Press last Sunday on the growth of reading in the digital age cited a student who remarked that he never picked up a newspaper in his life and read all his news online.

Bankruptcies, lack of advertising, deep staff cuts and a whole generation that depend on online media for their news, is making the extinction of the printed newspaper a distinct reality. Newspapers were once the backbone of any media relations campaign. If the trend continues, we, as public relations professionals will no longer have a major distribution source for our information.

What will the future hold? Will newspaper publishers go to a digital pay model, like the Wall Street Journal, offering added content for paid subscribers? It seems that this may be the most logical move for publishers. It is certainly a subject that is receiving a lot of debate. They are certainly not making any money by giving it away free; just ask the ownership group of the New York Times.

As professionals who build their reputations by establishing strong ties to media, there has to be a sense of unease. Sure, everyone is adapting and using social media to engage audiences for their clients. However, will the days of being able to foster a relationship with a columnist and tailor a story directly to their tastes disappear with the extinction of the printed newspaper?

The competition in major markets between rival newspapers used to be intense, with papers trying their best to break news over their competitors. Now, major newspapers are joining together and creating alliances to gather news. Last week, it was announced that the two biggest newspapers in New Jersey, the Newark Star Ledger and Bergen Record would team to provide one combined news bureau from the statehouse in Trenton.

A combined news bureau of the two biggest newspapers in a state certainly doesn’t speak to editorial competition. The news media, especially columnists covering the state government, serve as the protector for the public in providing editorial oversight into government.

Moves like this, in my view, are strictly survival measures.

What we once knew and loved is rapidly changing. How many more survival tactics will be employed by publishers before the media vehicle we all used and loved becomes extinct?

Tom Cosentino

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