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Dec 8, 2009 5:38 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

The newspaper industry is at a crossroads

Dec 8, 2009 5:38 PM

Imagine waking up one Sunday morning, fixing breakfast and sitting down to read the Sunday newspaper. But instead of cracking open a print edition, a person turns to his or her laptop and checks out the newspaper’s website or reads the online version of the publication.

The newspaper industry is at a crossroads in the way it presents information to readers and while some publications are embracing the new technology, others have been struggling to find ways to remain profitable while also reporting and sharing the news as quickly as possible.

Eric Alterman, in an article he wrote for The New Yorker and appearing in March 21, 2008, reports that, since 1990, at least one quarter of American newspaper jobs have vanished. Recently, The Wall Street Journal’s Boston bureau had to close, and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer became the first major newspaper to turn its back on print and shift toward a completely digital format. According to an article written by William Yardley and Richard Perez-Pena, and published in the March 16, 2009, edition of The New York Times, the reason for such a drastic change was that the Seattle newspaper lost $14 million last year alone.

Since the introduction of the internet, a few in the newspaper industry have been struggling to make ends meet while the majority are still trying to figure out how to make money by focusing on their websites. Many papers have already created sites where they post articles, and even the Westhampton Beach School District has started putting its paper, The Hurricane Eye, online.

The problem faced by most newspapers, dailies and weeklies alike, is that instead of paying for their news, readers now have access to a lot of information at no cost. And many young readers find it more convenient to get their information online instead of reading the print versions.

Jen Barsky of New York City, who is currently a student at Cornell University, said she loves the easy access offered by news websites. “I can pull up a CBS News application on my phone and it’s much more accessible and immediate than the cumbersome paper,” she said.

The Southampton Press first launched its paper online in 1995. Joseph Louchheim, publisher of The Press News Group, said that there are many benefits for subscribers when a newspaper offers a website and posts articles online.

“There’s no limit to story length, it’s portable, and it’s searchable,” Mr. Louchheim said.

The Southampton Press’s online edition has changed over the years as well. The group’s new website, 27east.com, is not the same as the print edition. Mr. Louchheim explained that he wanted to make the new website a “community portal.” There are fewer stories and opinion pages on it than appearing in the print edition, though it does offer more user content, such as pictures, blogs and multimedia outlets like videos.

Still, technology presents many disadvantages for newspapers. Though more and more people are turning to online newspapers, many publications are struggling to generate revenue through their websites. For some, website advertisements only account for about 10 percent of revenues taken in by a newspaper.

Declining profits is the main problem plaguing newspaper companies. Some papers have thought about charging people a fee to view their sites’ content. Though most newspapers have strayed away from this idea, Newsday is now charging a fee of $5 per week to non-Cablevision customers.

Newspaper publishers have also come into conflict with search engines. Google is one example of a search engine that doesn’t give newspapers their “fair share” of ad revenue. The problem is that newspapers create their content and the search engines do not compensate newspapers when readers click on the links. Such search engines keep the majority of the profits—money made through their advertisements—even though none of the content is actually produced by those companies.

In his book “The Vanishing Newspaper,” Philip Meyer, a professor of journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, notes that if you chart the rate of decline in the percent of adults who read a newspaper every day, from 1967 to 2002, and extend that line into the future on a similar pace, it would hit zero at 2043.

“So, when will the last newspaper be printed on an actual press? Depends on how inventive and/or stubborn the publishers are,” Mr. Meyer said. “Maybe they can make a sustainable business out of people who read less often than daily. Maybe they will improve their products so much that young people will adopt the print habit. All we know for sure is that nature doesn’t like straight lines, and the trend will bend—one way or the other.”

Still, many experts agree that the end of the print publications, whenever that may occur, will not mark the end of journalism. Rather, many say it will simply mark a new era of journalism in which readers get all of their information online.

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You have misquoted me! In the book, I presented a chart showing the decline in the percent of adults who read a newspaper every day -- from 1967 to 2002. Extend that line with a straightedge, I said, and it would hit zero at 2043. In the same chapter, I report that the decline is not caused by readers giving up the habit but by 7-day-a-week readers dying and being replaced by younger cohorts of people who never acquire that daily habit. So if the line were a prediction (which it isn't), it would ...more
By Philip Meyer (2), Chapel Hill on Dec 8, 09 4:26 PM
Sorry, Mr. Meyer--as noted, this is a story written by one of our high school interns. Gave us a chance for a teaching opportunity!

I've edited the story to reflect your entry above. Hope that's satisfactory.
By Joseph Shaw, Executive Editor (206), Hampton Bays on Dec 8, 09 5:42 PM
It's a common mistake, so don't worry about it. Heck, it was a pretty good story even with the error. Thanks for the fix.
By Philip Meyer (2), Chapel Hill on Dec 8, 09 5:48 PM