Tuesday, June 14, 2011

No News May Be Good News, But Less News Is Bad News (guest essay)

5th in a series on troubles at the Post-Star

by Mark Wilson

In his Sunday column, From the Editor, Post-Star Editor Ken Tingley this week announced the latest cutbacks in store for the troubled regional daily. Owing in part to the rising price of newsprint, starting next week the paper will resort to eliminating an entire newspaper section (one of five*) from Monday and Tuesday editions.

*-Editor's note: the fifth section is classified advertising.

To accommodate the decreased comics and puzzle pages on those days, the paper will also axe four nationally syndicated comic strips throughout the week. The abbreviation of the newspaper’s content for the first two days of the work week may be seen as an unfair burden by readers who buy their papers at the newsstand on those days—a burden not shared Wednesday through Sunday. Subscribers to the Post-Star’s e-edition who receive digital PDF files of the paper as laid-out in print, will also bear the cost of the lost content, even though their subscription requires no commitment of newsprint whatsoever.

The new round of economizations comes on the heels of the paper’s promotion of a new director of circulation, Michelle Giorgianni, following the departure of former director Matt Lang. After doubling their newsstand prices fourteen months ago, the Post-Star has seen a dramatic decline in circulation numbers for its print editions.

Despite the evident turmoil in daily operations, Editor Tingley seems preoccupied by the future of news distribution. Even while admitting to conflicted feelings on how to treat digital media scandals in his paper, Mr. Tingley has been bringing himself quickly up to speed. In May he spent a couple days in Washington attending seminars on the future of newspapers in the digital age. He returned to report many “fascinating factoids,” perhaps unaware that a factoid is not, in fact, a fact.

Mr. Tingley also tuned into an American Society of Newspaper Editors webinar last week on the future of print news. He now sees the Apple iPad and similar tablets as the most promising technology for delivering an increasingly digitized news product. The Post-Star, having devoted time and resources most recently into developing software to convert its content to the black-and-white interface of Kindle, is now hard at work coming up with an app to adapt itself to tablets. Tingley hopes to have it ready by fall.

Recently, in defending the newspaper’s sudden doubling of its newsstand price to a dollar last year, Mr. Tingley stated in his blog, “there is essentially nothing you can get for a dollar anymore.” (Countless dollar stores to the contrary notwithstanding.) The passage of time has provided at least one: a share of stock in the Post-Star’s parent company Lee Enterprises ended last week trading at 95¢ per share, the first time it has ended a trading week below the one dollar mark since the depth of the recession in 2009. Along with the stock certificate and a few pennies change, you also get an invitation to the annual shareholders’ meeting in Davenport, Iowa, in February.

Last month, In the wake of a failed attempt to refinance the corporation’s crushing debt, Lee CEO Mary Junck assured investors and the market in general that they will continue tightening their belts. That may be good news for the bottom line, but it would appear to be bad news for regular Monday and Tuesday readers of the Post-Star.

Mark Wilson is a freelance artist and writer who contributed cartoons for the Post-Star from 2001—2003.

Editor's note: Tingley bragged about how much more local content the paper has now as compared to 1900 and 1956; but a more ingenuous comparison would be to 10 or 20 years ago. A Tweet from the Federal Communications Commission notes that the Baltimore Sun produced 32% fewer stories in 2009 than in 1999. I wonder what percentage drop the local daily has seen.

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