newspapers

T. Voekler

 

The latest circulation figures for the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press are out. Where once the Detroit News and Free Press boasted sales of over 600,000 copies a day, the Free Press now has fewer than 200,000 subscribers and the News fewer than 100,000.

User: Valerie Everett / Flickr

 

Newspaper endorsements are one of America's time-honored election traditions.

But as the winds of change blow through newsrooms across the nation, that tradition is changing.  

Anna Clark wrote about this for the Columbia Journalism Review. She says some major newspapers have stopped making endorsements since the trend started around 2009.

According to Clark, some newspapers are concerned about the risk endorsements may pose to their credibility. Others cited doubts about whether endorsements actually affect election results. 

User: Matt MacGillivray / Flickr

 

 

For many of us, a newspaper encounter is not complete until we've done the crossword puzzle.

And the New York Times crossword puzzle is one of the premier puzzles.

Tracy Bennett, an Ann Arbor-based puzzle constructor, has been getting her puzzles onto the pages of the New York Times.

Her most recent puzzle for the New York Times is a themeless puzzle. She says a themeless puzzle typically has fewer words and needs to meet a symmetry requirement.  

Almost 30 years ago, I was national editor of the Detroit News, which was then the largest-circulation paper in Michigan.

The newspaper was then locked in a competitive struggle with the Detroit Free Press, and each was trying to put the other out of business. They had the novel idea that not only low prices but high quality was the way to win, and they did a lot of excellent journalism.

Back then, in the days before the World Wide Web, both newspapers sold well over 600,000 copies every day. On Sundays, their combined circulation was more than a million and a half. You could subscribe to either paper anywhere in the state.

Ten years or so ago, a woman named Andrea Lavigne sat in on some media survey classes I was teaching at Wayne State University.

She was in her late 30s or early 40s, and seemed to be searching for answers. She wanted to know how the media work, and told me she was a Maoist.* This fascinated me, because I thought authentic Maoists were almost as rare as passenger pigeons. 

Chairman Mao, we now know, starved to death and slaughtered tens of millions of his own citizens, and kept China economically and intellectually backward. Intrigued, I got together one night before class with her and another Maoist, to find out what they were all about. Alas, they spouted a form of primitive, grade-school Marxism.

They seemed to have very little historical knowledge of Communism or what it had actually been like.

Three years ago, I got a friendly email from Ms. Lavigne telling me she had now founded a marijuana film club.

Well, Andrea Lavigne has a new cause now: She wants to get the city of Grosse Pointe Park to outlaw the weekly newspaper, The Metro Times, because it has sexually oriented ads. 

T. Voekler

TOLEDO, Ohio - The Blade newspaper in Toledo says it's considering shutting down its printing and mailing facilities and laying off about 130 workers.

Block Communications Inc. notified city officials in a letter released Friday that it plans to begin the job cuts in August.

The layoffs would not include newsroom, advertising or circulation employees.

Newspapers, even big-city newspapers, are in a sorry state these days.

Thanks largely to the Internet, their circulation and advertising revenue has been in free fall, with the result that they have far less staff than they once did.

There are also fewer papers than there used to be.

Washtenaw County, outside of Ann Arbor, is home to a collection of fascinating and picturesque little towns like Manchester, Saline, Dexter, and Chelsea. Each had its own thriving weekly newspaper: The Saline Reporter, Dexter Leader, and Chelsea Standard.

Years ago I did some consulting for the local company that owned those papers and learned that no matter how physically close these places might be, the good people of Chelsea did not want Dexter news in their paper, and vice-versa.

Times are different now.

There are many reasons to lament the slow disappearance of newspapers. But here’s one you may not have considered: the loss of cartoons and comic strips.

You might be startled that an old political and news analyst would say that. But in fact, comics, both overtly political and not so, have always been great political and social barometers. Back in the late 19th century, Boss Tweed, the corrupt New York City political boss, was largely done in by Thomas Nast’s cartoons.

Before he was carted off to jail, Tweed complained bitterly. He didn’t care what the reporters wrote. After all, many of his supporters didn’t read. But Tweed said “them damned pictures are killing me!”  Thanks to Nast, he died in jail.

Nationally syndicated political cartoons aren’t as big as they were when Feiffer and Herblock reigned supreme. In modern times, the national mood seems to be captured more often in comic strips. Doonesbury was the must-read of the 1970s; Bloom County captured the 1980s.

Tomorrow will be a historic day in Detroit. That's when a federal judge will decide whether the city is eligible for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection. On today's show, we took a look at the different ways Judge Steven Rhodes could rule.

Then, we took a look at the future of newspapers. As newsrooms get smaller, and more people hop online for information, will the industry be able to reinvent itself and keep up with the times? 

And, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments this morning in a case that pits Michigan against an Upper Peninsula Indian tribe. We discussed the case with Rick Pluta, who is reporting from Washington D.C..

Also, we spoke to a new Michigan music duo, The Accidentals. 

But, first on the show, the Board of State Canvassers today certified a voter-initiated petition that would put new restrictions on abortion insurance coverage in Michigan. The proposal would ban abortion coverage in standard health insurance plans. Women would only be able to purchase abortion coverage as a separate rider. The measure now goes to the state Legislature, which has 40 days to pass it. If not, it will go to voters on the 2014 ballot.

MLive reporter Jonathan Oosting joined us today to discuss the issue.

Zoe Clark / Michigan Radio

Newspapers aren’t what they used to be. 

Newsrooms are smaller and big stories are being missed.

Case in point: The Flint Journal apologized recently for not informing voters that a city council candidate was also a convicted murderer until a day after he won the election.

So how will people stay informed as newspapers and their staffs are shrinking?

Last week I went to Springfield, Illinois to do some workshops for a program called NewsTrain, which is sponsored by a number of journalism organizations and foundations.

The idea was to provide reporters and editors, a fair number of them from Michigan, with tools to do their jobs in what was described as a “rapidly changing media setting.” Translated, that means a world where fewer reporters are supposed to do more work on multiple media platforms at the same time. 

Newspapers always have been a backbone of our democracy. Thomas Jefferson once said that he’d prefer newspapers without government to a government without newspapers.

All the President's Men photo / metroland.net

CareerCast.com ranked more than 1,000 American jobs, and determined that the worst job isn’t garbage collector, animal cage cleaner or Lindsey Lohan’s sobriety tester  – but journalist.

Yes!  Score!  Booyah!

They based their rankings on four criteria:

  • the workplace environment,
  • the industry’s future,
  • the job’s average income,
  • and stress.

Okay, it’s true: newsrooms aren’t pretty places.  The future looks bleak for newspapers.  You can make more money doing a lot of other things.  And, yes, the stress is very real.  The hours are bad and many of our customers think they can do it better – and often take the time to tell us that.

But journalists themselves have reacted to this ranking with all the cool, collected calm of Geraldo Rivera, or Nancy Grace.

But here’s why: newsrooms aren’t for everybody, but we like them – the hustle and bustle and energy and urgency.  We like the stress, too – no matter how much we complain about it – because it comes with doing work we think actually matters.

Union workers at the Macomb Daily and Royal Oak Tribune newspapers are contemplating a possible strike and other job actions at the end of the month.

The Journal Register company owns the papers. It has announced plans to end its union contracts and probably make deep cuts in its union and non-union workforces, more than 800 people statewide.

Lou Mleczko is the president of the Newspaper Guild of Detroit. He says the unions, representing the union 175 members involved, met Sunday to agree on a strategy.

“We are not just going to sit idly by and let them terminate these contracts….and strip pay and benefits away from our members,” says Mleczko. 

Mleczko says the unions plan to start telling advertisers about their plans.

He says the unions may hold strike authorization votes before March 19th.

That’s the date of the next bankruptcy hearing for the Journal Register company.

Terrence Vaughn / The Holland Sentinel

Most people know Holland, Michigan for its Dutch roots and maybe it’s big tulip festival.

But in the 2010 U.S. Census, more than 1 in 5 people who live in Holland identified as Latino. So maybe it’s no surprise why The Holland Sentinel newspaper decided to put out a new Spanish language monthly magazine.

Allan Lengel writes for Deadline Detroit, "the recent exodus is unprecedented in size for local media outlets, and it has shaken the staff and left the top management searching for talent to fill a few of the positions."

The conventional wisdom is that newspapers -- dead tree news -- are on their way out. In some places, like Ann Arbor, there is no longer a daily newspaper at all. The publishers of the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press deliver papers only a few days a week.

However, here’s a surprising development. Newspapers across the country gained readers over the most recently audited six month period. Not by leaps and bounds, but still, on average, gained.

Groundcover News

If you walk around downtown Ann Arbor you may have spotted people selling something called Groundcover News. The paper is what’s known as a street newspaper. That means homeless people sell the paper for $1 and they make a profit on every issue they sell. 

Groundcover News has articles about all kinds of topics written by the staff and other volunteers. But a growing number of the articles are being written by homeless people.

The Ann Arbor A.V. Club has folded. The local entertainment arm of the popular satirical newspaper “The Onion” made its debut in September and employed three full time workers.

Bobby Mitchell and his company Bopper Media handled all aspects of the Ann Arbor Onion and A.V. Club franchise - from printing to distribution and ad sales. Mitchell did not want to be recorded for an interview, but he did confirm that the November 24th issue was the last one he’d be publishing. He wouldn’t say more except to say “lawyers” were involved. He also added that there's a slight possibility The Onion corporate might want to take over the Ann Arbor A.V. Club and publish it.

Curtis Sullivan was very surprised to hear the news. Sullivan co-owns the comic store Vault of Midnight in Ann Arbor. He says, unlike other free, entertainment weeklies, copies of the Onion’s used to fly off the shelves at his store:

"We almost never have leftovers of the Onion! And I hear people talking about, 'did you read The Onion?' I don’t know, you don’t really hear that as much about other things."

Sullivan himself is a huge fan of The Onion - so much so he even signed up for a full year of advertisements with the local A.V. Club, something he never does:

"I’m not very excited about print advertising as a business owner generally. When they approached us, it was like, this is great, we’ll do it! I thought it would be a perfect match."

Instead, Sullivan's Vault of Midnight ad only got to run once before the publication folded.

MLive.com

According to a press release by Booth Newspapers Publisher Dan Gaydou, Booth Newspapers and MLive.com will now operate as one consolidated company, MLive Media Group.

Distribution and administrative operations will move to Advance Central Services Michigan, a newly formed subsidiary company.

The restructuring will most likely mean job cuts as the organization increases its focus on digital content.

From the announcement on MLive.com:

Many of our newspaper employees will have a place in the MLive Media Group and will still work in your local community at the MLive Media Group office. Many others will have a place at Advance Central Services Michigan. While we believe these changes will create growth opportunities for our current employees, the reality is they will also lead to reductions in our work force. We will provide as much notice and consideration to our employees as possible. We’ll strive throughout this process to treat all our employees with the professionalism and respect they deserve.

Gaydou says MLive Media Group will open new offices and hire people to produce content for its online products and its newspapers. Employees affected by the layoffs will be able to apply for those jobs.

Home delivery will be reduced to three days a week for the following newspapers, with daily content available in an online format.

  • The Grand Rapids Press
  • The Kalamazoo Gazette
  • The Muskegon Chronicle
  • The Jackson Citizen Patriot

Other Booth newspapers including the Flint Journal, Saginaw News, Bay City Times, and AnnArbor.com will also move under the MLive Media Group name but delivery changes at those papers are not expected.

John Klein Wilson - Michigan Radio newsroom

We’re living today in a confusing and somewhat frightening time. Michigan is in trouble, economically. Trouble of a different kind than we’ve been through before. The longtime mainstay of our economy, the automotive industry, will never again be what it was.

This has plunged us from one of the nation’s richer states to one of its poorer ones. State government is finally facing a financial crisis it tried to ignore for years, and the governor is proposing changes that seem radical and sometimes hard to understand.

Beyond that, education at all levels is in crisis. We learned last month that our largest city has suffered a staggering population loss over the last decade.

There are real questions about whether Detroit and other cities, communities and school districts are going to have to be taken over by Emergency Financial Managers.

Understanding all this is vitally important in order to make key decisions for our own lives. Should we trust the public schools? Should we buy a house? Where should we live?

And even, should we leave the state?

We clearly need thoughtful, intelligent and easily accessible journalism to help make sense of these and other events - and need it possibly more than at any other time in our history.

Yet journalism is in trouble too. Journalists, if they do their jobs right, are never very popular. Much of the time, we’re bringing you bad news, and some of the time, we are obnoxious about it.

But right now, we’re having trouble doing that. Digging our news is an expensive, labor-intensive job, and the vast majority has always been done by newspapers. Yet newspapers are facing a deep crisis of their own, thanks in large part to the internet revolution, and our changing lifestyles. Newspapers have been supported historically by advertising, and much of that has melted away to cyberspace. We also don’t read newspapers as much as we used to. People read news on the internet, but internet providers produce little news.

They merely collect it - mainly from our shrinking newspapers.

That doesn’t mean some broadcast and even online publications don’t produce quality journalism. But in terms of content, it is comparatively small.

Last night I spoke at the Detroit area Society of Professional Journalists annual banquet. Michigan Radio won a number of awards, and an encouraging amount of good journalism was on display. But attendance was smaller than last year. Some people have left the profession. Some companies no longer buy tickets.

Yet there were still an impressive corps of men and women there who work long hours for usually not much pay to find out what we need to know and shape it into an interesting package.

Would-be writers can take part in a workshop this weekend. Groundcover News is hosting the event Saturday, March 26 from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Groundcover is a monthly paper in Washtenaw County that focuses on poverty and homelessness and many of its writers are struggling with those issues.

The workshop is geared toward people who have written for the paper, but anyone can attend.

Freelance writer Vickie Elmer is teaching the class. She says the idea is to have more voices, telling more compelling stories.

The workshop happens at the First Baptist Church in Ann Arbor. Cost is $20, but admission is free if participants promise to write two future articles for the paper.

Saving Newspapers

Mar 14, 2011

It’s hardly a secret that newspapers aren’t doing very well these days. Over the decades, they’ve been gradually replaced as the nation’s universal mass medium by television.

Newspaper’s biggest economic blow came, however, with the flight of advertising revenue to the Internet. This, combined with an ever-more busy public bombarded by more and more media choices, has badly wounded what was once a thriving industry. And, left us in danger of being dangerously uninformed as well. Ann Arbor, for example, no longer has a daily newspaper at all.

The problem is perhaps most acute in Detroit, where, twenty-five years ago, the Detroit News and Free Press sold a combined total of one point three million newspapers every day.

That number has declined ever since. Audited figures show that as of last September, they were down to a combined circulation of less than four hundred thousand, a number that has dropped further since then.

To save money two years ago, Detroit’s newspapers embarked on an experiment in which they would deliver the papers only three days a week, and asked consumers to read them online or go to the store and buy it the rest of the week. This really hasn’t worked.

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

Update March 14th, 10:14 a.m.

Tony Dearing is AnnArbor.com's chief content officer. He posted a comment over the weekend on AnnArbor.com about the layoffs. Here's what he wrote:

While personnel issues are an internal matter and we don't discuss them publicly, I can confirm that we reorganized our newsroom this week to put our focus more squarely on local news coverage. As a new organization, we have tried a lot of things. Now that we are well into our second year, the community has told us very resoundingly that what it wants most from us is hard news coverage, particularly in the areas of government, education, police, courts, health, the environment, University of Michigan sports, and business. These areas of coverage account for all but a tiny percentage of our readership and revenue. Meanwhile, we also have put a lot of effort toward other things -- including lifestyle topics like Passions and Pursuits, The Deuce, Homes and some areas of Entertainment coverage -- that our community has shown much less interest in, and we are scaling back in those areas.

We have made tremendous progress since we launched, and we continue to be very happy with the growth we're seeing in audience and revenue. But from the beginning, we said that we would be shaped by what the community wants, and the community wants us to focus more sharply on local news reporting. We have repositioned ourselves to throw our energy and resources into our local news coverage and that is how we will operate moving forward as we continue to grow.

Xandert / Morgue File

On Thursday, members of the Michigan State House Committee will discuss two bills that could change how cities and townships publicize legal notices such as public hearings and foreclosures. 

Current laws require all legal notices to be published in local newspapers. But these bills would allow local governments to post the information on their own websites or an online newspaper. Other options include broadcasting the notices on a radio or television station.

Representative Douglas Geiss is the sponsor of one of the bills. He says it’s time for a 21st century update:

Newspapers aren’t doing well these days, though the companies that own them are still making money. Michigan Radio’s Jack Lessenberry says the result is being played out in Detroit.

_______

Thirty years ago, I worked for the publisher and owner of a family-owned newspaper in Ohio, a somewhat crotchety gentleman  in his early seventies who I came to know pretty well.