Newspapers are sick, but maybe they’re not dying after all. Sure, layoffs continue at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, where content is shrinking and the quality is diminishing. Similar disembowelments have been happening for years at newspapers across the country. Companies are struggling to hang onto geriatric, paper-friendly readers while trying to attract a new generation of tech-savvy readers and figure out how to get advertisers to follow along.
The McClatchy Company, which owns the Star-Telegram, just told employees it will “begin a robust test of a pay plan” at its newspapers, including the Star-T. The plan will offer readers a “new print-digital subscription that will include access to multimedia editions for a relatively small increase of home delivery rates,” as well as online-only digital subscriptions.
Makes sense — giving away your product has always been a strange approach to capitalism.
The globe’s most famous investor (and former paper boy) Warren Buffett recently advised his Berkshire Hathaway group to pay $142 million for 63 U.S. newspapers. Last year, the group spent $200 million on the Omaha World Herald. Buffett must think newspapers can still generate profits. He still hails newspapers as among the most important institutions in small communities. Or maybe he just wants to make sure that other people have the opportunity to throw papers in the bushes.
Static talked recently to Nikki Usher, an assistant professor at George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs. She sounded bullish about McClatchy’s prospects.
“They are in a tight spot because they are dealing with small and mid-market newspapers, but they are doing a really good job because they are not applying a one-size-fits-all approach to a single newspaper,” she said. “They’re letting each news organization experiment.”
Since print newspapers still generate the most ad revenues, it “makes a lot of economic sense to hang on to your print readers for dear life,” she said.
The Dallas Morning News is hanging on to print readers while taking bold strides to beef up its online product. The paper is raiding digital-savvy talent from other papers, such as by plucking Robert Wilonsky from the Dallas Observer. The Dallas daily tapped into the McClatchy workforce as well, recently hiring Amanda Wilkins, the online assistant manager editor at the McClatchy-owned Kansas City Star.
… and Kudos
Closer to home, Fort Worth Weekly hired its first new staff writer in years, nabbing Andrew McLemore from the Williamson County Sun — just in time for him to be named a finalist for, ahem, the Livingston Awards, one of the most prestigious competitions in the country for young journalists.