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Daily newspapers: Dead, dying or just digitizing?

The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated, author Mark Twain quipped after his obituary was published.  Fast forward more than 100 years and actor Jeff Goldblum responded with the same sound bite to deny an erroneous tweet from delicioushair about his reported fatal accident.

Like people, industries and their products also bite the big one.  Certainly, for the most part, the only place that typewriters still tap and pagers still beep is in the great scrapheap in the sky.  While obits on those industries and their products are accurate, is the death knell for the newspaper industry premature?  Is it time to just add maggots?

Some blogs are pulling the plug.  Newspaper Death Watch is a popular blog chronicling the decline of newspapers.  So is blog PoynterOnline.

This year, The Public Relations Strategist magazine of the Public Relations Society of America published a doomsday article, “Farewell to the “mass media,” stating that the top 10 daily newspapers had lost 700,000 subscribers over the most recent six months.  At the PRSA annual meeting last year, “technology journalist” Paul Gillin declared, “Mass media is going away.  It’s not coming back.”

Now that’s extreme.  The Media Audit reported that 42 daily newspapers in the U.S. boosted cume readership over the last seven years.  Cume is short for the cumulative, unduplicated net readership over period of time.  Our local daily, the Houston Chronicle, grew 6 percent over that time, according to the study.  Other major dailies in Texas also gained readership with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram posting 13 percent growth and Austin American-Statesman at 10 percent.

The ghouls have not ruled out that newspapers will somehow pull out of the death spiral by reinventing themselves.  Industry insider and Editor & Publisher magazine columnist Steve Outing, said, “Digital is the future.”  He discourages retooling of print editions, which are so thin now, some pet bird owners say they no longer make good cage liners.  “Don’t bother chasing young people.  …They are sitting with their laptops or tapping on their smart phones,” said Outing.

Like other major dailies, the Houston Chronicle is attempting to appeal to the digitally inclined, which incidentally includes a large, fast-growing segment of geezers.  I peruse the print edition but also read breaking stories on my cell phone at  The Chronicle also offers a free Web-based edition and subscription-based full digital editions through third party PressDisplay.  Other Web 2.0 media include SMS text messaging, various blogs and RSS and Twitter feeds.  Perhaps next to come are investigative exposés in 140-word tweets.

For major dailies, it’s not business as usual.  A look at the Chronicle’s robust job listings in a down job market is revealing.  The newspaper needs an ad solutions associate to support the digital sales team, multi-media sales rep to identify digital revenue opportunities, computer-assisted reporter to make Web information available to staff, channel producer to manage an online site for the religious community and digital account manager to develop online advertising and engage with national digital agencies.

Major dailies aren’t dead at least yet.  The question is whether their digital editions can pull in subscription and single-copy sales and ad revenue.  If few are willing to pay for online content, then I see delicioushair in my future for my news.  By the way, Britney Spears is alive.  Or at least she was the last time I checked.

Contributed by Mike Wysatta, business development manager at Ryder Scott.


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