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Tell It Like It Is

Picking A Fight With The Ink Barrel Guy

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Thomas Segel is responsible for this content, which is not edited by the Wilson County News or

September 30, 2011 | 1,185 views | 1 comment

Harlingen, Texas, September 28, 2011: There is a cautionary line often uttered in the media business. In a variety of different forms it warns the writer to: “Never pick a fight with the guy who buys his ink by the barrel.” I am going to ignore that warning and voice my complaint.

For more than a decade now, journalists with greater knowledge of the topic, have been warning us of the rapidly approaching death of the daily newspaper. Multiple editors and publishers agree the daily newspaper is heading slowly toward its own demise. Already there have been many funerals across the United States for once powerful media names. It is estimated that in 1950, as the country was emerging from the many restrictions of World War II, our dairy newspapers were seeing a paid circulation of subscription and individual sales tht often reached 65 million copies a day. This was the equivalent of serving 125% of the American households. In that year the United States population was just over 150 million people. Today, with the population more than doubled since the 50s, we have all the newspapers combined showing circulation figures of less than 40 million copies a day and reaching only about 35% of the population.

Antidotal evidence of the daily newspaper decline can be seen here in the Rio Grande Valley. Our Freedom newspaper, the Valley Morning Star, no longer even prints in our city. All of the Harlingen editions are printed at another Freedom publication 45 miles away. To say the content is even half of what was formerly offered would be an over statement. If it were not for wire service and fill copy, the pages would be almost blank. At lunch the other day, a friend commented that he no longer subscribed to our local paper. He said, “I just got tired of every morning reading what I had seen the night before on television.”

There are many reasons given for the dying newspapers in America. Young people don’t read them. They get their news from iPhone and the Internet. We have 24-hour TV news. The list goes on.

My son, the coach, is now middle middle-aged. During his life I have rarely seen a newspaper in his home. Even when visiting me, his reading seems to extend only to the sports section. At home his family often complains there is nothing but sports on the television set. But, he is not uniformed. He does get his news somewhere, just not from the daily newspaper.

Another factor related to newspaper decline is the cost relative to value for both the subscriber and the advertiser. Many formerly faithful advertisers are shifting their purchases to television finding it to be a greater bite for the buck. Television is a big villain in the picture, with its cable, satellite, over air broadcasts and multiple news outlets a much wider audience range can be reached.

An extensive examination of major newspapers across the United States revealed that for almost two decades these publications did little to promote circulation or expand their market shares. An age-old adage in business is...if you are not growing -- you are going. That appears to be the case for print media.

However, more circulation could also prove to be a publication’s undoing. For example it was recently estimated that the cost of delivering the San Francisco Chronicle to a single subscriber was about $45 a week. The subscription cost paid by each household was only $8 a week. If that estimate is true, it doesn’t sound like a solid way to expand the profit line.

To be completely fair, some newspapers are doing quite well. In fact, there are more and more of them appearing in print every day. These are the small town publications. A friend of his wife started the La Feria News in a neighboring town. It did so well that they have now started newspapers in the cities of Los Fresnos and Rio Hondo. What makes these papers profitable? They carry only “local news” and local advertising.

People always enjoy reading about themselves, their lives, hopes, and dreams. They like seeing their pictures and their friends pictures in print. They love reading about their own clubs, organizations, charities and sporting events. I can still vividly recall a part time reporting job I had for a small newspaper decades ago. That job was to write about every little league team in town, including player’s names and the scores. If I missed a team that week, my telephone would rarely stop ringing. People love reading about all those little things that make up their lives...and that is what happens on the pages of small town newspapers. It is a truth that dailies have never figured out.

Remember the old acronym KISS? Keep It Simple Stupid! Maybe if the daily newspaper would formulate itself under the KISS example the business numbers might climb back into the black.

Semper Fidelis
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