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November 11, 2008 / Toby Dayton

Sinking Ship Analogy Still As Good As Any

While the focus of ‘Diggings’ is pretty varied, covering a broad range of topics related to HR, advertising, technology, recruitment advertising, job boards, and miscellaneous things I think are interesting, the most consistent focus unquestionably centers around the decline and eventual obliteration of the daily newspaper industry. It is a fascinating, endlessly rich phenomena to not only witness, but document and reflect upon (at least for me, anyway).

There are times, however, that I feel (rightly so, I am fully aware) that I am merely relaying facts and documenting in tedious detail the obvious and, only rarely, not so obvious, symptoms of a terminally sick industry. The L.A. Times slashed newsroom staff, circulation for the dailies fell again (what a shock!), the Star Tribune stopped making interest payments, etc. – these are noteworthy events, but in and of themselves probably not very compelling for most people. I occasionally attempt to lend some analysis to the events and generate some original insight into what is going on, why it is happening, what could be done about it, or what communities might look like without a daily newspaper, but the pace of decline has accelerated to such an extent that doing so is becoming increasingly difficult. It is also becoming increasingly pointless. Everyone knows why the dailies are dying and offering ideas about how the industry could turn itself around has become patently absurd. I will likely continue to do so anyway, however, should the compulsion arise and I will also continue to link to others who are providing decent commentary on the topic.

But I’ve also arrived at the following justification for continuing to simply document symptoms with as much frequency and in as much detail as time will allow: It’s as gripping to me as watching again and again the 20-minute scene in Titanic where the ship actually sinks: the icy water rising, plates falling and shattering on the floor, windows imploding, people fighting to get into the lifeboats, the ship cracking in half…it’s riveting stuff. So, too, for me is watching the daily newspaper industry sink. It’s incredibly gripping and we get to watch in real time, albeit in slow motion over the course of a few years. And while the simplistic analogy is massively over-used, it is both apt and convenient. And with that overly long and perhaps unnecessary pre-amble, the following are the most recent areas of destruction for the sinking daily newspaper industry:

• The Kansas City Star laid off 50 employees after just having laid off 30 people and accepting buyouts from another 30 staffers in September.

Advertising Age wonders if paid-circulation print publications can survive the next 5 years.

Media Life wonders if free daily newspapers will survive.

• Maybe too little too late, but Rance Crain offers some solid advice on how the dailies could lower costs and fill the increasingly large, gaping holes in their content.

• Circulation for the dailies is falling everywhere, including Minneapolis and Milwaukee.

• Followthemedia.com had this to say about the recent reports on continued circulation declines in the U.S.:

“The new audited figures for US daily newspapers are out and try as one might it’s difficult to find any good news in there except, possibly, that the figures aren’t worse and that some of the losses were intentional because of cutbacks in distribution and bulk sales. But as it is, total daily circulation in the six-month period to September 30 declined 4.6% and that compares to a 2.6% drop for the same period last year, so the pace of the rot is increasing.”

• Things are so bad that the dailies are now starting to partner with their most hated rivals.

Tune in again soon (or not) for the next installment of continuing decimation.