Thursday, May 17, 2018

Opinion: Print or Digital

Kevin Surbaugh

© Kovaleff | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images
Edited by Kevin Surbaugh
Recently the Baldwin City Chamber has made overtures towards trying to get a print newspaper in Baldwin City. Something that as a journalist I would love, but there are some realities that cannot be ignored in this process.
First and foremost print papers around the country (and even the world) are closing down. Primarily because the readership is dwindling as the readership moves to broadcast and digital formats for their news.  There are those that don't have access to the internet, that still depends on print. However, the cost of print is rising.  Especially since the first of the year, that is when the United States Department of Commerce started imposing steep tariffs of up to 32 percent on newsprint imported from Canada. This additional cost on an industry that has seen subscriptions falling for several years is costly. In a report entitled, "Newspaper Industry Lost Half Its Workforce Since 2001 Due to Digital Media Rise," we see what appears to be a bleak picture for the print industry.   According to the article which predicts that the digital platform will grow by 9.8% annually and the non-digital platform will experience a fall of three percent during the current period of time (2015-2020).  The same article continued to say,
"The number of U.S. newspaper employees fell from 412,000 in January 2001 to 174,000 in September 2016 as per the data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the other hand, the number of jobs in the Internet publishing and portal segment increased from 67,000 in 2007 to 206,000 in 2016. This reflects the transition from the print to the digital media sector causing several job cuts in the newspaper industry.
The same report confirmed that the number of newspaper industry businesses declined about 18%, from 9,310 in 2001 to 7,623 in 2016. Meanwhile, the number of Internet publishing and web search portals increased 150% from 2007 to 13,924 in 2016. Even magazines, book publishing, and radio broadcasting showed a decline, whereas the television industry jobs have been stable since 2001. The number of periodicals declined from 9,232 in 2008 to 7,566 in 2016."
Which segues into the second fact declining ad dollars is another factor in the decline of print media.   In the same article mentioned earlier, the writer said,
"Many publications have closed as print-advertising revenue went down 80% since 2005. The New York Times Co (NYSE:NYT) alone spent $72.0 million, about five percent of its operating cost in 2017. It had also affected hundreds of smaller papers having limited financial resources."
 That pretty much sums it up, without the advertising dollars, especially for a free publication, whether it be print or digital, the newspaper cannot survive. No advertising dollars means no community support. It doesn't matter how many readers the publication has, if it doesn't have the advertisers, it cannot continue.  That is the primary reason the community is losing Baldwin City Radio.  The Gazette itself needs to have at least 100 classified ads every week, along with business advertisers, who will place the banner ads in the pages.  Without that level of support, the writer cannot derive a salary to keep the digital paper going. Without a salary, even a one-person staff cannot cover the community the way it needs to be, due to outside work priorities. The level of advertising commitment is higher for a print paper due to the cost of the paper, printing, distribution, and mailing.  Again, I would love to publish a print paper, but the community does need to step up and support whatever form of paper that the community has.

So what is the future? With digital, the paper isn't limited to the printed words. Other mediums such as video content can be brought in to help tell the story.  In an article published by CNBC,  the CEO of the New York Times, Mark Thompson is quoted as saying that newspaper presses may only have ten years before they are obsolete.  I am not sure that I completely agree with that bleak picture.  In my mind, I believe that there will always be some form of the print media, but digital will be a big part of the future.
Another thought that I have read and heard about is that in the future newspapers will be transformed in a similar manner that what we now know as National Public Radio (NPR) did for radio. That being that newspapers will be non-profit.  Supported by a mix of free will donations and advertisers.  Perhaps each of these futuristic views could be in our future.  What does it mean for Baldwin City?  Only time will tell, but let us all work as a community and see what happens. 


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