The Dallas Morning News, owned by the A. H. Belo Corporation, has announced the layoff of 43 employees including 20 writers, editors, photographers and newsroom support personnel. The decision was driven by declining revenues.
According to the President and Publisher, Grant Moise, “After considerable thought and analysis, our management team has determined that our business in the future is largely supported by subscription revenue and the need for more aggressive investment in our digital products. We are re balancing our financial resources to support these new foundational elements so we are positioned for success and can deliver quality journalism for many years to come.”
The Chief Financial Office of the newspaper’s parent corporation added, “The job losses are part of a company-wide reorganization that includes “investing in technology platforms that support subscribers’ online experience and enhance customer service at every level. In 2019, we are committed to aligning the company's investments and resources with the goal of becoming the best possible subscriber-first digital organization.
Newspapers: a failing business model?
(1) Much of the news of the past decade was actually provided by third-party news sources like the Associated Press (AP), United Press International (UPI), Agence France-Presse (AFP), Reuters News Service (Reuters), and others to “local” news outlets. The news and photos provided were made available to everyone and were disseminated as written.
(2) With widespread access to the internet, the same story appearing in a multiplicity of available news sources made the news seem stale and repetitive. Likewise, the impression of news immediacy was destroyed because news websites made the information in newspapers seem old and worthless. Immediacy took a further hit with instant messaging and the fact that an individual, not a reporter or trained journalist, could provide on-the-spot coverage with live reactions, sound, and video.
(3) Likewise, news aggregators such as The Drudge Report and Yahoo News culled the top stories of the day and presented them in a curated manner with instant access to the original source. No longer did one have to read an entire paper to get a sense of the news.
(4) The paper media was outdated as people no longer had to deal with wet papers left on a porch or driveway, not had to physically carry them home from a point-of-purchase.
(5) Advertising revenue, chiefly from main street, local stores, and dealers drove the paper’s advertising revenue. Now with search engines, one need not read a paper to obtain news of specials or even obtain discount coupons.
(6) Biased news became problematical as political parties and corporate interests influenced the coverage, often alienating large portions of the subscribing public. False headlines featuring the bloody and the bizarre became de rigueur as news providers competed for audience share with other newspapers, the broadcast media, and the internet. Biased reporting led to negative feelings as people simply stopped purchasing newspapers or using news sources that offended their sensibilities.
(7) Moving content behind a pay-wall did not work as the same information could be accessed from other sources, most providing more immediate and accurate coverage that local newspapers.
(8) Unionization, with the unions demanding higher wages and benefits without a corresponding increase in productivity and revenue generation, is also a major factor in the labor equation. The unions continued to resist technology which meant fewer employees could produce more output than ever before.
(9) Declining value proposition as one wanted one or two items from each edition and the subscription or access costs made it unattractive for the casual user to subscribe on a monthly basis. Why would anyone pay up to $50 annually (at 99-cents per week) to access only a slim portion of the news. Even micro-payments for individual views has not caught on and may never be a major revenue source that can support the actual cost of reporting the news. Possibly leading to citizen journalists and automatic aggregation and algorithmic curating on internet sites?
Unfortunately, the need for journalism and the investigation, collection, and dissemination of news continues, but the format of local newspapers has been disintermediated by other, and in most cases, better sources and formats. For conventional newspapers, it appears that the handwriting is on the wall.
Just because something bad hasn't happened yet, doesn't mean it won't. It can happen to anyone, anytime, anywhere ... are you now wondering, Am I Next?