No, the headline isn’t referring to I-1000 mentioned below, the sensible and humane statewide initiative that would allow physicians to (legally) prescribe lethal medication to terminally ill patients under narrow circumstances. Rather, I’m talking about Eric Alterman’s column in today’s Seattle P-I, chronicling the slow, sad death of our daily newspapers.
The flight of readers and advertisers to the Web has led to an unprecedented assault on stockholder value, making newspapers the investment equivalent of slow-motion seppuku.
For instance, on July 11 Alan Mutter’s invaluable Reflections of a Newsosaur blog reported that in “perhaps the worst single trading day ever” for the newspaper business, “the shares of seven publicly held newspaper companies today plunged to the(ir) lowest point in modern history.”
When losses continued to accelerate, Mutter calculated that newspaper stocks had shed $3.9 billion in value in just the first 10 trading days of July, leading to the disappearance of more than 35 percent of those companies’ combined stock price in 2008 alone.
It’s been nearly 2 1/2 years since the much-missed Molly Ivins observed of media moguls that, “for some reason, they assume people will want to buy more newspapers if they have less news in them and are less useful.”
And yet the strategy continues unabated.
The accountants may tell you that the logical thing to do is to cut expenses in line with declining revenue, but I’m pretty damn sure newspaper publishers would be better off heeding Ivans’ commonsense observations than those of the bean counters. The newspaper industry is in the midst of a rapid and dramatic transformation that does not have to lead to its death. Now is the time for innovation and risk taking; those who gamble right will win and thrive, while those who gamble wrong may perish. But those who don’t gamble at all—who merely continue to do the same old thing, but less of it—will slowly and surely drift off into oblivion, their own obituary dominating the front page of their final edition.
And that’s a death without dignity.
Personally, I’m rooting for the Times and the P-I to gamble right. I know there are some at those papers who take my relentless criticism as some form of deep seated hostility, but I’m a child of Watergate, an avid newspaper consumer who grew up idolizing reporters. Yeah, sure, I’m a tough critic… but only because I care.
And if anybody in management at either daily ever wants to sit down and talk with me about my ideas for reimagining the newspaper business (some of which don’t even include hiring me), I’m always up for a cup of coffee or a beer. You know how to reach me.