Watching the Arizona Daily Star die before our eyes is like watching a relative in their final months of terminal illness.
As one can see reading the comments on Arizona Daily Star axes 52 employees and more are probably on the chopping block that there are many who aren’t exactly sad the Star is breathing its last.
Of course the Star management and owners will claim the paper is going to turn around and survive. Not likely.
At the national level there are lots of dynamics working against print daily newspapers in places like Tucson.
Lee Enterprises over-leveraged its debt when it bought newspapers like the Star.
It was like paying $1.00 for an asset worth ten cents and borrowing the money to buy that asset expecting enough revenues to cover the $1.00 debt.
Can’t happen. The revenues were declining anyway. The recession just made it worse. Fewer advertising dollars because fewer people are buying stuff.
But that hits on one of the problems with the whole print newspaper business model.
The news (and the payment of reporters to generate the content) was dependent on advertising revenues from display ads and classified. As ad revenues declined due to the internet (Craig’s List for example) and the recession, the money supply shrank so the newspaper management did what was obvious to them…cut costs…which meant cutting the sources of their content…reporters.
That turns into a death spiral because if there is less content, there is less reason to buy the newspaper and thus less value to advertisers.
Another revenue source for print newspapers was circulation…newsstand sales and home delivery. That also has declined because more and more people access news content on the internet…mostly for free. I’m “old guard”. I like having my print newspaper with a cup of coffee in the morning. We’re a dying breed it seems.
Why pay 75 cents for the print edition of the Star when you can see what you want to see on the web? A cup of coffee costs $4 now anyway.
This is where the system really crashes because the print media didn’t figure out the web soon enough to “monetize” web content.
But the print newspaper industry is not solely at fault here.
As Pogo said “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
There is a strong mentality on the web that content must be free so web users expect to read the news and not pay for it.
We accept the annoying web page ads and ignore them the same way we ignored (mostly) the print ads and how we ignore TV ads.
Print media ad revenue was big. Web ad revenue is much much smaller. Something like between $1 and $3 per 1,000 page views.
But the real problem is how to generate enough revenue from a web site so the content providers can make a living doing this.
For the most part no one has figured that one out.
The problem keeps coming back to really small ad revenues for web sites and readers who want free content. The content providers get squeezed in this scenario.
That is why you see some content providers on web sites (including on the Citizen) asking for donations and subscriptions or trying to sell tee shirts or whatever.
Besides the national stuff that is driving print newspapers into the graveyard, the Star has its own responsibility for its decline.
Whatever else is going on…if one provides content relevant to the market you will get readers and page views and some revenue.
The trick is deciding what is relevant to the market and how to generate page views.
Tucson happens to have generated a lot of great nationally recognized writing talent like Tom Miller or Charles Bowden . Occasionally one sees their bylines locally but the local market pays pennies for stories. Whatever else Tucson is, Tucson is cheap.
And that says a lot about Tucson’s larger problems. With a million people in the area Tucson is big enough to support a vibrant journalistic community and showcase its home-grown talent. But it does not.
The truth about Tucson for a long time is you have to leave and make it in the real world and you will never be recognized locally because there is some strange insecurity locally about our own talent.
We really need a strong investigative journalism outlet in Tucson….but the Star had that role and defaulted it.
It is time to move on and figure out how to be able to provide the community the information it needs so people can make decisions.
The Citizen has the potential of replacing the Star in that role…but it is caught in the same national crunch of not enough on-line revenue and the parent Fortune 500 company behind the Citizen doesn’t see the wisdom in investing in content here.
What we really need is locally owned media.
And we actually have that….at least in our local region…in Wick Communications.
They have carved out a niche in the market…community newspapers…that is actually doing well.
Between all their publications in the area…Tucson Weekly, Inside Tucson’s Business, Green Valley News, Nogales international, Sierra Vista Herald…they cover a lot more ground and content in the area than the Star does.
If all the content in the various Wick papers were combined into a regional on-line paper they’d blow the Star right out of the water. The Wick papers routinely scoop the Star on major stories…for example the Weekly’s series by Leo Banks on the wild fire starts.
They already have paid content providers, paid freelance writers, and web bandwidth to do this.
Probably for no more than it costs Gannett to keep the Citizen on the web, Wick could put an on-line paper into the market that would blow the Citizen out of the water as well.
We can get our national news from national papers like USA Today.
But we absolutely need local content so we know what is going on in our own community.
Someone has to cover the city of Tucson, Pima County and all the other things going on here so our voters know what is happening.
Someone needs to tell us the good news going on in the community.
Someone needs to turn over rocks and find out the bad news as well.
The Star’s demise may be an opportunity to see a locally-owned media emerge.
Tucson as a community is doomed if our future is totally dependent on nationally owned banks, nationally owned corporations, and other national business interests that ultimately could give a rat’s rear end about us and our jobs and our kids and our future.
The local families who created the Star and the Citizen, and who sold out to national companies and retired nicely, didn’t do us any favors.
But now that the national interests are throwing us in the trash heap because they don’t earn a sufficient rate of return on their Tucson investments means the door is open for local investment and ownership and control.
If the Wick folks don’t step into the emerging regional news vacuum…then our business community…which has been famous for whining about the biased coverage of the Star…need to put their money where their mouths are and create a really high quality local news outfit.
For some reason comments are being blocked on this post…not my doing. If you want to offer your two cents email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Second Note: My first real job was as a cub reporter for the Tucson Citizen in 1967. I got out of the newsie game and got a law degree instead. Over the years I started the Frumious Bandersnatch satirical newspaper in 1965 which still lives on line (a