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How to deal: Limited options for failing newspaper industry

Limited Options for Failing Newspaper Industry

Limited Options for Failing Newspaper Industry

Newspapers are trapped between the flailing economy and the burgeoning digital age. If January is any indication of how newspapers will fare in 2009, the industry is in for one of its most difficult years.

Newspapers know cost-cutting is inevitable, but finding the best method of saving a paper is still a trial and error process. Kevin Roderick from LAObserved reports that the Los Angeles Times is dropping its California section. According to Roderick, only advertisers were notified of the change in advance. Local news will appear within the first section of the newspaper, which currently focuses on national and foreign news. The mood in the Times metro department is said to be grim.

Layoffs are the other big option for newspapers in a pinch—a crutch that will be increasingly used in 2009. Erica Smith has been tracking U.S. newspaper reductions for three years on her Paper Cuts blog. In 2007, she counted about 2,000 individuals who had lost jobs in the second half of the year. Total cuts for 2008 tallied a brutal 15,000. And January brought more than 1,100 cuts. Even the Wall Street Journal, which seemed safe under Rupert Murdoch’s wealthy wing, is expected to eliminate about 50 editorial positions in coming weeks.

But when cutting staff or eliminating sections isn’t enough, closing is sometimes the only option. The Baltimore Examiner, circulation 250,000, will print its last issue Feb. 15. A buyer could not be found for the 3-year-old free daily, which was aimed at affluent locals who wanted a quick read. Last year, the Examiner scaled back home delivery to twice a week and reduced printing by 80 percent. Still, staffers had overwhelming workloads, and the paper struggled to find a place online among other publications. The Examiner tried almost everything, but it wasn’t enough.

As circumstances compound, it is nearly impossible to be optimistic. Jack Shafer, Slate’s Press Box media critic, has somehow found a way. He recently told The Wrap, a new entertainment and media site, “I love newspapers, and at the same time, their dying makes me a mortician—it gives me a lot of work.” He said that newspapers aren’t dead yet, and more importantly, news itself is alive and well.

Newsgathering may be safe. But if this January is a warning of what is to come, the days of ink-stained fingers caused by your morning paper are definitely numbered.

–Lisa Rowan

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