The rise of the Internet in the mid-1990s transformed many business models, especially those of newspapers.
Those who work for newspapers often hear sympathetic, diplomatically worded inquiries from friends and neighbors about the future of our business. It is, they assume, declining with an inevitable slide into obsolescence.
Not so fast.
Just as with the recorded music business, consumers haven’t lost interest in what we have to sell; they just are looking for it to be delivered in other forms. The hard part for both industries comes in having feet in both worlds: the hold-in-your-hand CDs and newspapers, both of which are costly to produce and ship, and the digital formats, which are easy and inexpensive to manage but which consumers often expect to enjoy for free.
The biggest misconception about the news business is that demand for our product has declined. This is not so. The Bangor Daily News web site just reached a new height for reader interest, topping 7 million page views per month. In fact, bangordailynews.com is the state’s most visited news site.
The BDN and other news businesses in Maine have a significant impact on the economies in which they operate. A recent survey completed for the Maine Press Association and the Maine Daily Newspaper Publisher’s Association found that the state’s newspapers in 2010 employed 1,766 people, paid wages and benefits of $71.3 million, and $7.5 million in state and local taxes.
We also deliver our news, feature and sports stories, videos and photos, opinion and commentary via email newsletters, Facebook pages and Twitter feeds. But this new approach may not be so new.
Before World War II, most city daily newspapers had early morning, mid-morning, early afternoon, evening and late editions. Their continual updating of news stories is not unlike what happens in the digital world today.
The nature of the delivery methods also has affected how we approach reporting, writing and illustrating. Stories tend to be shorter with regular updates. This is not unlike that 1930s movie image in which the grizzled reporter at the crime scene calls the office and barks, “Give me re-write!” and dictates facts which are crafted into a story in the office.
Will newspapers — the print product, as those in the industry call it — disappear completely? Probably not. The death of magazines was widely reported in the early 1970s as legacy publications like Life, Look and the Saturday Evening Post failed. But a walk through a book store today shows that while weekly, general interest magazines faded out, hundreds of specialty publications for niche interests were born.
As the economy recovers, the news business is poised to continue to meet the public’s need for information about everything from Main Street to Wall Street.