Not dead yet

Times are tough. Anybody heard that lately? Daily newspaper chains are suffering. All print media—daily newspapers, magazines, weekly newspapers—are suffering. Channel 2 news reporter Brandon Rittiman stopped by the Reno News & Review offices to discuss the question: What’s the future of print journalism?

There’s an accurate answer to this question that nobody wants to hear, but it’s the gods’ honest truth: Nobody knows, and anyone who says they know is lying. People don’t like that answer because they want to keep an image in their minds of the path they’re going to go down. They want an “OK, that’s what’s going to happen, I can prepare myself for its eventuality. I may not like it, but as long as I know what’s coming, I can be ready.”

But predicting what’s going to happen during this transition in newspapers, both daily and weekly, is analogous to predicting what was going to happen to the internet back on Jan. 1, 1983, when the switch was made from Network Control Protocol to Transmission Control Protocol and Internet Protocol (TCP/IP). Who could have imagined social networking back then? Who could have imagined Pandora? Who could have imagined Craigslist? Even so, there were many experts who believed they knew where the internet was headed.

So, look, here’s what we do know: Print outlets across the country are reacting to this economy in different ways. Some newspapers are moving from daily to weekly; some are publishing fewer days a week. Many have changed format, dropped features and sections, moved features together. Some decreased the physical size of the paper. Many have had layoffs. Some have gone (or are going to go) internet only. Some have raised prices per issue and for subscriptions. Some have raised advertising rates; some have decreased advertising rates. Some are cutting home deliery. Many, many have lowered the quality of the core product for which people pick up newspapers: the news. And none of this even discusses what newspapers, magazines and other print outlets have done to the morale of their employees through hours cut, salaries cut, benefits cut, workloads increased, insurance benefits lost—you name it.

But look beyond the negative. While smaller newspapers and newspaper chains are hurting, it’s the big chains—the Gannetts, McClatchys, and Tribunes—that are screaming in pain. It makes sense that the public and certain members of the media believe that print journalism is in its death throes, since much of the dialogue in this country is set by the biggies.

But nature and business abhor a vacuum. What if the Reno Gazette-Journal were to fold? (It won’t, by the way. That newspaper is on sound financial feet.) Is there no one in this town to create something on a newer and more efficient scale? What if Gannett decided to divest its newspaper holdings? Think there aren’t a few people in this community who would like to buy the RG-J?

Local ownership and management does nothing but improve newspapers. If those chained dinosaurs die out in the face of competition, you can take it from us, some more resourceful mammals will be there to feast on the carcasses.