The last time I enjoyed regular home delivery of a daily newspaper was back in 2003, when I ended a three-month subscription to the Seattle P-I after accumulating stacks of recycling and a six-inch diameter rubber band ball. It’s not that I didn’t read the P-I, it’s just that I mostly read it online, and the satisfying hand-feel of the dead-tree edition simply wasn’t worth the extra clutter or cost. And so it was with some nostalgia this week that I drank my morning tea while shuffling through the pages of the Philadelphia Inquirer, a big city paper that despite a noticeable decline over the past couple decades, still puts its smaller Seattle cousins to shame.
Even on this notoriously slow news day, the Inquirer’s front page once again finds room for five stories, four with bylines from staff reporters, while the Seattle Times features two articles from the LA Times, one from USA Today, and a column by Jerry Brewer. I’m just sayin’. The P-I’s front page is a bit more encouraging, with all three articles sporting bylines from staff reporters, including one actual local news story. Wow.
But it’s not the news or the op/eds that caught my attention this week, but rather the ads. Of course today is “Black Friday,” and the Inquirer was so chock full of ads and inserts yesterday that it had to be bagged and delivered in two parts. I’ve written before about the experiential difference between reading a paper online versus reading it in print — they often emphasize entirely different headlines — but online readers almost entirely miss the usual Sunday circulars, let alone the deluge of holiday advertising. And I’m guessing online publishers miss the revenue windfall from the holiday season as well.
This highlights just one of the many challenges facing publishers and the communities they serve as the newspaper industry continues to transition from print to web. Unless newspapers can find a way to maintain or replace such traditional revenue sources, newsrooms will continue to experience cuts, and overall quality will continue to decline. Meanwhile, consumers and retailers alike risk losing what is after all, a valuable service. No, I don’t particularly like having my living room cluttered up with circulars for stuff I’ll never buy, but I don’t mind learning about a 32″ LCD HDTV for $399, or an 8GB USB flash drive for $28.95.
Happy Black Friday Frank Blethen and Roger Olgesby.