Newspapers folding all across the country

CNN reports on the sad state of affairs at many newspaper outlets throughout the country:

(CNN) — The Rocky Mountain News, gone. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, gone.

The chain that owns the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune is in bankruptcy. Other papers, large and small, are teetering on the brink.

On Monday, the Ann Arbor (Michigan) News announced that it will publish its last edition in July. Taking its place will be a Web site called

Three other Michigan newspapers announced Monday they are reducing their publications to three days a week. The Flint Journal, The Saginaw News and The Bay City Times will publish print editions on Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays, according to the Web site, as research shows those are the highest readership days for newspapers.

And the Charlotte Observer announced Monday it will cut its staff by 14.6 percent and reduce the pay of most of the employees it keeps.

The situation now looks grim for The Tucson Citizen. In the past 25 years, circulation at Arizona’s oldest newspaper has dwindled from 65,000 to 17,000. The Gannett Co. paper could fold if a buyer can’t be found.

At least 120 newspapers in the U.S. have shut down since January 2008, according to Paper Cuts, a Web site tracking the newspaper industry. More than 21,000 jobs at 67 newspapers have vaporized in that time, according to the site.

More bad news could be coming this week as newspapers struggle to meet challenges posed by changing reader habits, a shifting advertising market, an anemic economy, and the newspaper industry’s own early strategic errors.

Amid the decline comes concern over who, if anyone, can assume newspapers’ traditional role as a watchdog. For more than 200 years, that role has been an integral part of American democracy.

What the article fails to mention is that there was serious concern on the watchdog front well before so many newspapers starting dealing with substantial financial woes. At issue for people like me is the fact that most newspapers don’t act so much in the role of “watchdog” anymore but instead have stepped willingly into the role of “lapdog” – mostly to Democrats. The “watchdogs” these days tend to be investigative journalists like John Stossel, and bloggers on the left and right, rather than ratings-driven journalists like Katie Couric.

But even though it’s been well-documented that a majority of Americans believe as I do that there is a political bias in most mainstream media reporting, the bigger issue, as the CNN article hints at, is that many newspapers have not adapted well to the technological boom, especially amongst young readers, many of who are getting their news online for free via their Blackberries and iPhones, and are reading blogs, Facebook, and other social networking sites. Plus, the advertising revenue is just not there:

Some of the biggest threats to newspaper profits have come from Web sites like Craigslist and, online advertising venues that are chipping away at newspapers’ classified ad sections.

Newspaper classified ad expenditures tumbled nearly 17 percent in 2007, according to the Newspaper Association of America. The recession is affecting auto dealerships, real estate companies and other local businesses, accelerating the advertising downturn.

Many newspaper experts expect national publications such as the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The Washington Post and The New York Times to survive. They say the largest papers could even benefit from industry woes and grab market share because of their wide penetration.

In the meantime, these papers are facing a harsh economy. At The Washington Post, owned by Washington Post Co., earnings plunged 77 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008. The newspaper was saved by the parent company’s Kaplan educational division, which raked in more than half the company’s revenue that year.

The future offers the industry little comfort, with studies showing newspapers have lost a generation of young readers. A Pew Research Center report this month found only one-third of Americans polled say they would “miss” the newspaper a lot if it were no longer around.

Exit question: Is “electronic ink” the answer?

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