An early autopsy of the newspaper industry

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The newspaper business is slowly dying, but it didn’t have to be this way.

The Poynter Institute reports that 1,300 more newspaper jobs disappeared in the United States in 2013.

In what is surely a most cruel form of irony, the people responsible for running the newspaper business – the suits, the MBAs, the publishers – could have made the decisions to at least soften the decline of the industry if not prevent it, but they failed miserably.

Supposedly, they had all that business savvy, but they proved that they didn’t. They supposedly had the knowledge to read the changing business landscape and the authority to make the decisions to adjust; they did neither well enough to make a difference.

Here’s something you need to know about newspapers. They were never really a challenging business during their prime. In many communities and cities, they were a licence to print money – especially if it was a one-newspaper market. Classified advertising was the huge cash cow for many newspapers and there was also revenue from display advertising that pushed the percentage of revenue from non-subscription sources to upwards of 75 to 80 per cent.

Think about that. The people who got the newspapers at their doorstep paid for 25 per cent of the cost of collecting that news, printing it on newsprint, and delivering the bundled-up dead trees to the homes of subscribers.

Then, along comes a new medium called the Internet that can deliver the news to readers for a pittance. You still need to pay reporters, photographers, designers, and people to upload the news to a website, but you eliminate some huge cost centres. You don’t need to buy newsprint, you don’t need to buy expensive printing presses, or pay the salaries of people to print it and deliver it.

Comparatively, it’s a cheaper, more environmentally friendly way of delivering news to readers. It offered the promise of huge savings if the new medium was embraced, but the industry timidly put one toe in the water instead and continued printing newspapers while paying lip-service to their websites.

Then came the complaints that the Internet wasn’t working for them because they had to give content away because people wouldn’t pay for it. During this time sites like Craigslist and Kijiji siphoned classified ad revenue. Instead of copying their business model to keep those eyeballs on newspaper websites, they continued to charge for classified ads and drove more and more classified ad users to these free websites.

Like anything that has gone extinct, the companies that run newspapers failed to evolve.

If the companies that run newspapers want to exist — and continue delivering news — after the great demographic bubble of the baby boom passes on, they’ll need to get their heads out of their wazoos and stop printing news on dead trees.

Barbara Amiel column an embarrassment to journalism

In modern parlance, Barbara Amiel is a troll. Fear not, I am not making an ad hominem — she does not look like one of Tolkien’s trolls — but her latest column in Maclean’s is the latest in a litany of off-the-cuff scribbles penned merely to elicit shock from those who can stomach her prose.

Titled Landmines in Our Sexual Landscape, the column is a vain attempt to prove that you can shine shit, but she fails in that regard. If she continues to write columns for Maclean’s — and I predict she will — it’s proof that the well-connected Amiel can write whatever the hell she wants just to get a reaction. Not only are her comments insensitive to the victims of sexual assault, child pornography and sexual harassment, they reek of a juvenile attempt to poke a stick at what she perceives to be a hypocritical zeitgeist. If she thinks that we need to have a “Come to Jesus” debate and reconcile state-funded abortions with modern society’s so-called heavy hand on rape, child porn and groping, she would be better served if she didn’t belittle the victims of those three crimes.

Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are protected in the Constitution, but in availing oneself of these rights, one must endeavour to use them responsibly. Barbara Amiel has been given a tremendous privilege to write for a national magazine and by writing as she does, she is squandering that privilege by trying to spark reactions, rather than encourage debate or enlighten a discussion.

Watch out for the last kid picked

If you’ve ever played a game of pick-up hockey, you know that some poor kid always ends up getting picked last. Sometimes, though, that person can surprise people with their unknown ability.

That happened on January 16 in the CHL Top Prospects Games in Halifax. Laurent Dauphin was the last replacement added to the roster after Hunter Shinkaruk couldn’t play because of the flu.

No matter. Dauphin has skills and had averaged more than a point per game with the Chicoutimi Sagueneens of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. After the game, he said he wanted to show that he belonged.

He had a rough start to the game as he was decked with a clean open-ice hit just 20 seconds in the game. Ticked off, he came back on his next shift and set up his team’s first goal. He later added a goal to make it 2-0 and had two other good scoring chances as he earned player-of-the-game honours for Team Orr, which won 3-0.

After filing my story for The Canadian Press, I was musing over the game and Dauphin’s effort made me think of that old Canadian Tire commercial featuring Albert.

I mentioned it to a couple of colleagues and one of them, Neate Sager, ran with it. The Yahoo blogger who compiles the CHL blog Buzzing The Net, converted it into a nice post. Yes, I bet Don Cherry wished he had a guy like Dauphin on is team.

Well played, Neate. Well played.

Sage advice from Henry Ford

One of things I’ve never enjoyed doing as an employee was promoting myself; and because I didn’t enjoy doing it, I was never very good at it.

Now that I am in business for myself, I have no choice. Some say nothing concentrates the mind like a deadline, but making the mortgage payment and feeding six kids sure does. Trust me, I’ve faced both challenges.

As much as I enjoy the freedom of being my own boss, I have had to learn to continuously promote myself to generate cash flow. This blog is part of that and I’m always looking for opportunities to get my name out there, sometimes for free, and sometimes for a fee; it’s just something that I have to do now.

As Henry Ford once told his dealers, the secret to success is thus:

Early to bed, early to rise, work like hell and advertise.

That quote has since been attributed to Ted Turner and Peter J. Laurence, and some internet sites will tell you they coined the phrase. However, as a wise man named Abraham Lincoln once said:

The trouble with quotes on the internet is you never know if they are genuine.

How can we be sure, then, that Ford coined the phrase in the first place? Well, a reference to a printed source always helps. See here.

Regardless of who said it, though, it’s good advice.