Dead but not quite

Original author: The Economist
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Translation of the article in The Economist 12-18th June 2010
Cutting off all unnecessary newspapers, one after another they are saved from the crisis. However, one operation may not be enough.

What happened to the death of newspapers, so recently imposed on us? Just a year ago, the demise seemed to be very near. The recession minimized advertising revenue and threatened to deprive the press of that part of the audience that the Internet had not yet taken. Newspapers like the San Francisco Chronicle kept diaries of suicides counting down to their own demise. The US Federal Trade Commission has organized a roundtable on how to save newspapers. Should they turn into freeloaders of society living on charity? Or should exist on government subsidies? The next roundtable is scheduled for June 15th. But now these conversations seem less relevant than before.
The fact is that in many countries of the world the signs of a press crisis have decreased in number, or even completely disappeared. German and Brazilian publications managed to get out of the recession. Even American newspapers, which appear in the region that is almost the most problematic from the point of view of the newspaper business, not only survived, but also managed to profit. This is not the 20% that were familiar a few years ago, but still profit.
However, the healing process was unpleasant. Many newspapers managed to stay afloat, only throwing whole editorial departments overboard. The American Society of News Editors believes that since 2007, 13,500 jobs have sunk into oblivion. Readers pay more for smaller issues. Some newspapers even ventured to refuse expensive delivery to remote areas, thus losing part of the audience. Nevertheless, these measures have already demonstrated their effectiveness and, as regrettable for the journalistic community, their implementation, apparently, has only just begun.
Destroying the house that Otis built

The newspaper business is becoming more balanced, with a more adequate, healthy ratio of advertising and subscription revenue. American publications have depended on advertising revenue for too long. The latter accounted for as much as 87% of total profits, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). For example, in Japan, this ratio is 35%, and it is not surprising that Japanese publications are much less susceptible to the painful influence of the feverish market.
The tornado that swept through the editorial offices affected everyone to one degree or another, but most of all he did harm where the publications tried to cover as many genres and topics as possible. Columns of auto and film reviewers disappeared from the stripes, articles on science and the economy as a whole also went into oblivion. The budgets of corporate offices abroad were mercilessly cut. As a result, quantitatively the content was seriously affected. However, versatility is no longer on the virtues of the newspaper business. It’s worth looking at least at the fate of Otis Chandler’s creation.
Thanks to family ties, Chandler became the owner of the Los Angeles Times in 1960. The newspaper, at the head of which he found himself, was distinguished by a limited-conservative orientation, which reflected the character of the city in which it was published. With the goal of destroying the established order of things, Chandler set about creating the rival New York Times on the West Coast. His newspaper was characterized by a powerful emphasis on serious, objective journalism, while relying on an extensive network of international correspondents. The new “face” of the newspaper impressed with its highest quality, but, as it turned out, was not quite ready for the advent of the Internet era. In the past few years, the Los Angeles Times has undergone several personnel “cleanings,” in 2007 it was overbought by construction tycoon and in 2008 began bankruptcy proceedings.
The problem with high-quality general newspapers is that, having perfected their work, they produce a product that is not unique enough for people to be willing to pay for it. The Los Angeles Times has an excellent school of foreign reporting, but it is difficult to prove that the content it creates is better than, say, the New York Times or foreign newspapers, sources of information to which consumers now have unlimited and mostly free access from their laptops and iPhones. Similarly, it is unclear why each major newspaper feeds its own auto browser: Corolla remains Coroll in both Albuquerque and Atlanta. More broadly, do presidential candidates or football teams need a whole retinue of journalists from various publications? Newspapers should focus on what they do well, that is, most often, local news and sporting events. If all the rest of the material is bought through news agencies, the reader is unlikely to feel cheated, at least as long as there is competition between the information providers themselves. After all, as a rule, the narrowing of specialization is equivalent to improving quality.
Whether in the future newspapers will still be waiting for us at our doors or if they will completely go online, they need to realize that they are selling only the product that is somewhat different from the neighboring one. New technologies like the iPad only confirm this rule. Just buying a box of glass and metal will not make people miraculously pay for the news. They will start paying only for what will have at least some independent value for them, and newspapers should remember this.

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