The Dearth of Newspapers
What does the downsizing of Alabama’s three largest newspapers signal for civic engagement in the state and the future of the journalism business itself? Is it “rest in pieces” for the Fourth Estate—or simply a natural evolution?
by Suzanne Johnson
“Black Thursday,” as it was dubbed by Forbes magazine, slipped up on many of us. On a Thursday morning in late May, word began spreading via social media like a flash fire: New Orleans’ 175-year-old daily newspaper, The Times-Picayune—awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 2006 for its unrelenting, unflinching coverage of Hurricane Katrina—would be scaled back to three days a week. In the ensuing online static, what almost got lost was another piece of bad news for the journalism business: Alabama’s three largest dailies—The Birmingham News, The Huntsville Times and the Mobile Press-Register—also were dropping to a thrice-weekly print schedule.
A few weeks later, the ax fell. Massive staff cuts at the four papers, all of which are owned by the Newhouse division of Advance Publications Inc., mocked a decades-old company “no-layoff” policy. More than 600 employees lost their jobs, according to the St. Petersburg, Fla.-based Poynter Institute, one of the nation’s top training schools for professional journalists and news media leaders. The dominoes continued to fall in July as the family-owned Anniston Star announced it would no longer publish a Monday print edition, leaving the state of Alabama with only one large daily, The Montgomery Advertiser.
Pundits had prematurely predicted the demise of daily newspapers shortly after 1980, when media mogul Ted Turner founded CNN and introduced consumers to televised news available all day, every day. The death knell tolled again in the 1990s as use of the World Wide Web picked up steam, then again five years ago when the economy tanked. … read more