Sunday, November 14, 2010 | Categories: Michael's Essays
November 14, 2010
Next month, US News and World Report will publish its final print magazine. It will continue on-line.
It started in 1933 as a small print newspaper and in 1948 became a magazine published each week. It became famous and popular for its annual rankings of best colleges, best personal finance plans and best hospitals.
But with a collapsing circulation and attendant decline in advertising, it went from a weekly to fortnightly and finally a monthly. It is owned by the Montreal born Mort Zuckerman who also owns the New York Daily News.
US News is simply the latest casualty of the decline of print journalism.
Circulations, advertising, especially classified ads, have been falling at a dramatic rate for years.
Newspapers have been closing and journalists more and more have found themselves looking for work in PR.
In one survey by the Newspaper Association of America the number of people employed on newspapers has fallen by more than18 per cent between 1990 and 2004. It is undoubtedly more in 2010.
Everyone in the media is caught up in predicting when newspapers, as we have known them for more than 200 years, will finally expire.
There is even a blog called, Newspaper Death Watch.
In fact, Philip Meyer in his book , The Vanishing Newspaper has hit upon an exact date - the first quarter of 2043. I'll be 101.
It is also predicted that the best newspaper in the world, The New York Times will cease its print edition at some point because of falling share prices.
Cost-cutting has become the ongoing mantra in news organizations and not just newspapers.
The number of foreign correspondents around the world has diminished. Instead of international news, papers are focusing more on lifestyle stories aimed usually at a younger demographic.
Here in Canada, things seemed to be a bit less apocalyptic for newspapers. In Toronto there are four dailies - some losing money, some not.
The Toronto Star, in my view, the country's best newspaper, seems thicker than ever in its Saturday edition.
The National Post began in 1998 by Conrad Black, is still around, thereby confounding many critics who predicted its early demise.
There is a tendency, as Robert Fulford wrote last year, for the media to predict the end of everything, in seriatim.
We have declared the death of the Conservative Party, the novel and network TV.
Years ago, it was said that talking pictures would kill radio, that television would kill movies and comic books would destroy children's literature - and possibly our children.
The delicate condition of newspapers is symptomatic of a greater concern: the fact that journalism as practiced for decades is disappearing.
A recent panel on journalism in New York characterized the condition as a crisis.
Dan Rather - the former CBC news anchor - said the old order, the old way of doing journalism is disappearing, and the new order of things is still in the making. And none of us knows what final form it will take. "We're in an interregnum," he said.
When I started in the newspaper business, the mission statement was simple - tell people something important they didn't know and do it clearly and cleverly.
But that was in the age of typewriters and teletype machines.
Now reporters aren't entirely clear what the job is. With multi-tasking and new platforms, with every major journalistic decision focus - grouped to death or worked over by high-priced consultants... the journalist's brief has changed.
Add to that the fact that every news manager is demanding that reporters do more - such as filing stories all day, with fewer resources , and you have a recipe for some kind of breakdown.
Newspapers aren't dead yet, but they are hurting. The thought that they might disappear altogether is chilling.
Should that happen - or come close to happening everybody - not just journalists loses.