Strictly Business: Extra! Extra! Newspapers not dead!

By Cami Joner, Columbian retail & real estate reporter

Published:

 

Here's a news flash — the newspaper business is not dead.

So, please stop repeating the fallacy, especially to us thin-skinned newspaper reporters who wish to remain in blissful denial.

Oh, forgive me, dear readers. I'm trying not to get cranky, but nobody likes to hear terms such as "dying," "death bed" and "toast" linked to their profession. And some of us in this industry can get especially prickly when the insults are hurled forth while we are simultaneously doing our job.

Yes, you'd be surprised by the number of business people, educators and elected officials who (somewhat) sympathetically quip, "As you know, newspapers are dying," during the middle of an interview.

I always try to appear expressionless to the gut punch.

"Don't let them see you sweat," I say to myself. "Sheesh, talk about irony."

I secretly want to ask them, "If newspapers are dying, why did Berkshire Hathaway billionaire Warren Buffett spend more than $344 million acquiring 28 dailies over the last 15 months?"

Hmm, I believe brilliant people like Buffett buy when the supply is high and the demand is low. Maybe he also knows that professional journalists can do a better job than the bloggers and social media commentators, whose skills and accuracy are a complete unknown.

Nevertheless, I prefer the term "evolving" when it comes to newspapers. It's a term that seems to match up, in part, with the Pew Research Center's report on American journalism, released this month.

The 10th annual report's findings show there is still demand for original reporting in publications that link and package today's "flood of available content," either on a website or in a bundle of paper and ink. Moreover, while digital progressives (those really plugged-in individuals who receive constant updates via smartphones and tablets) view newspapers as old and outdated relics, the digital age now poses more opportunity than threat to the industry.

In fact, more and more newspapers are successfully selling their content online. According to the report, 450 of the country's 1,380 dailies have adopted digital paywall systems which require a paid subscription — something that's been discussed here at The Columbian.

The approach appears to be working at small and midsized papers as well as The New York Times, the Pew report said. It found that for some newspapers, a combo of paywall revenue and increasing print prices has really helped hold circulation revenue steady, offsetting the loss of classified and commercial advertisements.

When I hear people talking about the death of newspapers, even as I'm reporting on a story they are trying to get into the newspaper, I wonder about a few things. First, where are their manners? Second, why are they trying to get publicity in a newspaper they think nobody reads? And finally, do they have a better way to give people news about what's happening in our community?

Not radio, which mostly ignores us; or television, which gets its story ideas from newspapers; or that big city daily across the river, which reports on our crime and political conflicts but mostly ignores our community life.

It's the newspaper — even if it's not actually on printed paper. And I'm betting it will be around just as long as people think the work of journalists is worth paying for.

Cami Joner: 360-735-4532, http://twitter.com/camijoner or cami.joner@columbian.com.