Do newspapers have 6 more months?

By Steve Outing

After 50 newspaper company CEOs met behind closed doors at the American Press Institute on Thursday for their “Crisis Summit,” I was tempted to comment, but wanted to wait to see what would come out of the meeting. Would some participants write what transpired that day? The API staff did publish this summary, but it’s pretty thin on detail. There was this at the end, under the heading “Next”:

“Participants agreed to reconvene in six months, and to explore additional collaboration. Some spoke of joint investment in research and development of both technologies and products, others of more formal means of sharing information.”

Well, I wasn’t the only person taken aback by that statement. On his News After Newspapers blog, Martin Langeveld, who recently retired after a long career in newspaper publishing, wrote what I too was thinking in “Busted Flat In Reston“:

“Six months? What are they thinking? They’ve laid off more than 10,000 people in the last six months — what will be left six months from now? They need to launch a Manhattan project to blow up their industry and start over. Now, not six months from now.”

Langeveld is right. The industry’s leaders keep putting off drastic change and hoping that incremental change will do the job. It won’t reset the trajectory to upward and it hasn’t so far.

The API staff reports that turnaround specialist James Shein, who addressed the 50 CEOs and who had researched the basic financials of the public companies represented at the summit, “concluded that as a whole the industry is at or approaching full-blown crisis stage, though individual companies are in various phases on the continuum. And he is pessimistic about their ability to halt their fall without outside help.”

I’m still eager to hear from some of the API summit’s participants (full list was published by E&P); perhaps there’s more to come out of Thursday’s meeting that’s not so discouraging. But from what we know so far, this still looks like an industry in denial about how much it must change, with many leaders whose heads are still high on Shein’s crisis curve (below) while their enterprises are much further down.

So, 50 newspaper CEOs, is there more to the story of what went on behind those closed doors? Because from outside, it’s not looking promising that you’re going to lead a reversal to the slide down that nasty-looking graph. If all that was accomplished at the Crisis Summit was to get everyone to accept that the problem really is big and agree to tackle the how in 6 months, that’s clearly not enough.

Author: Steve Outing Steve Outing is a Boulder, Colorado-based media futurist, digital-news innovator, consultant, journalist, and educator. ... Need assistance with media-company future strategy? Get in touch with Steve!

63 Responses to "Do newspapers have 6 more months?"

  1. BMWood
    BMWood 9 years ago .Reply

    The big dailies need to reconsider placing all their expensive to produce content (news!) on their web sites for free. The Wall Street Journal model may be a more viable alternative. Even new owner Rupert Murdock hasn’t dropped the paid subscription wall like he originally planned.

    They are chasing the 10 cents of revenue on the web per pair of eyeballs verses the dollar in revenue earned in the newspaper. Content is king and if readers want the local news that’s exclusive to the newspaper (and not on AP), they’ll read it where ever they can find it.

  2. Charles Batchelor
    Charles Batchelor 9 years ago .Reply

    BWWood, you mean like music and movies? Right!

    But, while I hate it that journalists are not getting paid for their work, but as someone who just canceled the subscription after 7+ years and also convinced one weekly newspaper publisher to try going paid on the web only to see it crash and burn, I can tell you what you’re recommending just doesn’t work. If there was justice in the world, it would.

    If only there were a way to get the ISPs to market news and information like movies…

  3. Jesse Olive
    Jesse Olive 9 years ago .Reply

    Charles, that is probably because the newspapers have ONE site that this content is posted on. They need to have a central site, but, in fact I thought YOU mentioned this, also have more targeted web sites that are out there and that rank high on the search engines. If done properly, that would not only increase the exposure of the content and main entity, but it would also add value to advertisers as the ads could be more related to content, in turn, creating more targeted advertising. Or, they could advertise whatever across multiple avenues (web sites). Thoughts?

    Jesse Olive
    President/Sensible Business Solutions
    Owner/Sensible Marketing Services

  4. Charles Batchelor
    Charles Batchelor 9 years ago .Reply

    Search engine rankings mean little to local newspapers. They MUST be the place–print or otherwise–where local people turn for local information. And they often are. But not often enough.

    I misplaced my barber’s phone number today and needed to make an appointment. I googled it. Bingo. That’s the problem. And, funny, I have a local community web site with that info myself.

    I can get local movie time for here in Virginia at, but I go to my newspaper instead. It doesn’t have to BE local, but it just has to feel local. That’s part of the power of the local news and info brand. And that is what advertisers are seeking, which is part of our logic behind Wuduplz.

  5. Jesse Olive
    Jesse Olive 9 years ago .Reply

    If you are strictly talking about their web site yes, but remember I am talking about newspapers owning niche web sites with high traffic. SEO is very important, but honestly, they should just start by acquiring top sites in specific areas, determined by performing analytics and discovering what type of searches are conducted most. For instance, REAL ESTATE.

    Jesse Olive
    President/Sensible Business Solutions
    Owner/Sensible Marketing Services

  6. Charles Batchelor
    Charles Batchelor 9 years ago .Reply

    Right. Real estate is a great example of “local” branding that I forgot. and many local newspapers are forging relationships to the benefit of both. But, no one newspaper should have to do what Zillow did. But, the newspapers can bring more power to Zillow–and they were doing very well as it was. A classic win-win.

    And,as I noted, while I have no first hand info, I hear many publishers are very pleased with the Yahoo deal.

    The local newspaper brand is feeling pain right now, but they are getting their act together as info utilities and will come back.

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