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November 25, 2009 / Toby Dayton

Pulling The Plug On Your Own Life-Support Machine

It’s been some time since I’ve written a post about the daily newspaper industry as what was once an interesting exercise has become somewhat joyless and macabre. It’s like continuing to cheer passionately for your football team when they’re up 56-0 in the first half and most of the other team has been taken off the field on stretchers. When derision turns to pity and perhaps even sympathy, it seems appropriate to move on to other things. But in reading a few headlines today, the derision has retuned, and I cannot resist the temptation to comment.

• If the Washington Post had any chance of surviving, their hopes rested on competing with The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal and USA Today on a national level. Given their dominance of all-things Washington, they even had a shot to win in the politics category. But their announcement that they are cutting bureaus in L.A., Chicago, and New York signals the myopia of their vision and seriously diminishes their chances of competing as a national paper. They are increasingly relegating themselves to a local metro level, and that virtually guarantees eventual death.

• In the absolute block-headed department, Belo and MediaNews are apparently joining sides with Rupert in blocking Google from indexing their content. News Corp may have a slight chance of doing this (say 1% or so), especially if they can finagle huge sums of money from Microsoft’s Bing who are desperate to find some way to compete against Google and will pay handsomely for a means to differentiate themselves.

But Belo and MediaNews? They have no chance whatsoever to survive without Google. None. Period. Game over. They’re done. Instant death. Even on their self-manufactured deathbed, these morons are determined to find a way to pull the plug on their own life-support machine.

On the other side of the table, where apparently not everyone has had a lobotomy, some dailies are making intelligent decisions.

McClatchy is working on Kindle editions of their papers (finally!) and Scripps continues its global expansion and growth in broadcasting with a majority investment in an Indian channel.

Meanwhile, the drumbeat of bad news for the industry continues unabated.

Revenues for dailies are down 28% in the 3rd quarter from $10.1 billion to $6.4B. This decline is almost identical to declines of 28% in Q1 and 29% in Q2. Brutal.

• The decline is not surprising given the fact that classified revenue is down 31% this year.

…..to imagine all this bad news given the fact that 74% of all adults either read a daily newspaper or visit a daily paper website at least once a week.