Monday, January 7, 2013

60 Minutes takes a look at Newhouse's Times-Picayune and its reduced print run, ends its segment by repeating rumor concerning The Plain Dealer

The management team at Newhouse Newspapers must be breathing a sigh of relief this morning following last night's airing of a segment on 60 Minutes about their decision to cut back to just three days a week the print run of their New Orleans daily, The Times-Picayune.

The segment's host, Morley Safer, spoke with Jim Amoss, the newspaper’s editor, as well as representatives of the community, the major, Mitch Landrieu, and NYT media columnist David Carr. Safer tried to reach Newhouse executives but was told to speak to Amoss.

What followed was a recapping of the situation at the newspaper chain, which not only cut back the print run in New Orleans, but at its other properties including those in Alabama. While the issues that have caused the decision at Newhouse were discussed, not much discussion centered on how the new strategy would succeed (and really what that new strategy is).

When asked by Safar whether he agreed with the company's decision to cut back the print run, editor Amoss answered by equivocating.

"Well, we'd been grappling, as all metro newspapers in this country have with what's happening to our industry," Amoss said. "And that is a steady decline in circulation, a steady decline in print ad revenue. And the solutions there aren't many. One is to act as though nothing were happening and continue business as usual. And to me, that's presiding over a gradual irrelevancy and a gradual death."

Is that a "yes"?

Later in the segment Lolis Elie, a former columnist at the paper, asked "how can half as many people cover the same amount of news with half as many resources? We fear for the quality of the journalism."

Amoss, while responding directly to Elie, gives a good answer back by stating that there "is no law of nature that says that kind of journalism is inextricably linked to ink on paper. We fully intend to continue to produce the kind of public trust journalism for which they know us."

That is true, but it gets to the real problem with the moves by the newspaper chain: while the paper may believe that the future of newspapering in online, no real plain, no real digital initiatives were announced at the time of the print cutback, and little evidence exists even today that the newspaper chain is truly committed to digital media.
Look at The Plain Dealer, the chain's daily newspaper in Cleveland. 60 Minutes ended the segment on the situation in New Orleans this way"

"And there are rumblings that an even larger Newhouse newspaper, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, founded in 1842 and with a circulation close to 300,000, could soon be next," Safar said.

If so, the folks in Cleveland will most likely be just as upset as those in New Orleans. They would be right to be even more upset. Because while the move in the south came as a surprise to many, a move in Ohio would be expected. Yet, the newspaper's website, which was recently redesigned, is in no way ready to assume the news responsibilities for a major metro area. The redesign is blog-like and is not a suitable vehicle for volumes of Internet advertising.

The situation is even worse in the area of mobile and tablet platforms. The mobile app was launched long ago by Verve Wireless, and is sold under the vendor's name; while the tablet app is a replica edition built by Technavia. How does one do a replica of a print edition that does not exist.

The trouble is that no one believes most newspapers when they saw they are becoming "digital-focused", and for good reason. Most of the most "digital-focused" newspaper chains out there are the least digitally advanced when it comes to the new digital platforms or with selling digital advertising.

Should Newhouse actually go through with an announcement for The Plain Dealer, I would hope that they would, at the very least, accompany that announcement with a new website and new mobile and tablet editions, as well. If you are going to take something away, it is always good to have something up your sleeve to show off. There is very little trust left that would allow simply for promises.