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Posted by on Dec 11, 2008 in Arts & Entertainment, Economy, Media | 2 comments

Are Detroit’s Newspapers Planning To Halt Home Delivery?

In a financial world now turned upside down on several fronts, it was a shock when the venerable The Christian Science Monitor (the most underrated newspaper in the country) announced that it would say good bye to its paper edition and would become a web-only news source.

Many quickly pooh-poohed that as a general trend, noting that Monitor wasn’t your typical newspaper and that a newspaper’s life’s blood was getting the paper in that increasingly elusive reader’s hands.

But now a big, fat rumor that has not been totally shot down is sweeping Detroit — where the conventional wisdom now is that the two big city, career-destination newspapers there may soon curtail…or even end…home delivery. And Editor & Publisher’s piece makes it clear this is a story worthy of following:

CHICAGO Detroit Media Partnership CEO David Hunke addressed — but did not deny — rumors of big changes in the distribution and publication of The Detroit News and Detroit Free Press in a memo to employees Thursday.

Hunke’s memo takes on the hot rumor in Detroit these days is that Detroit two daily newspapers will eliminate home delivery, maybe entirely or maybe for most weekdays.

Until the memo, Detroit Media Partnership — the Gannett Co.-controlled agency that runs the business, production and distribution operations of the Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News, which is owned by MediaNews Group — has said nothing about the supposed project. An E&P call to Detroit Media late Wednesday was returned by a public relations firm.

Here is what Hunke wrote: “In the past 24 hours you have no doubt heard a lot of rumors and several news reports about significant changes at the Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News. Clearly, over the past months we have been exploring various scenarios to reposition the companies for growth and to ensure two strong newspaper voices in the community. We plan to share details early next week with you, as well as with readers, advertisers, unions and the community. In the meantime, let’s continue to focus on doing the best job we can and on building the strongest relationships we can among ourselves and with our customers.”

The rumors broke into print in a column by longtime Detroit media critic and journalist Jack Lessenberry, writing in the alternative weekly Metro Times. Lessenberry said he could not nail down the facts behind the rumors, but noted that it is an unusually detailed tale being told in the city’s newspaper circles.

More details, or rumors, were added Thursday by Jim Hopkins, the former USA Today business writer and editor who runs “Gannett Blog.”

The bottom line is that the newspaper industry is now being battered down due to the Internet, its poor decisions in ignoring the Internet and how to compete with it, and its often tin-ear in providing younger readers information they want in a style they want it…without sacrificing content that older readers and other readers have come to expect. In fact, if you travel around the country and look at once-great newspapers, quite a few of them have become glorified “shoppers” — pages with canned or uninspired reporting, with fewer pages than only a few years ago, and lots of ads…but fewer ads than even one year ago.

Note that E&P’s info on the story is essentially corporate speak. One of the ironies of newspapers and magazines is that when they are themselves asked to comment on news involving their organizations, they often will respond with “statements” — officialistic, CYA blurbs of the kind that reporters and editors find funny and sad and worthy of mockery when other news sources respond that way, rather than responding with actual candor.

So don’t rule out changes in Detroit. Anything can happen — just as the Tribune seeking bankruptcy protection happened, the nation’s news magazines Newsweek and Time now having to adjust on several fronts to diminishing advertising has happened, the New York Times seeking to borrow money against its building has happened, the AP laying off staff has happened, the NBC network axing Monday through Friday 10 p.m. scripted programming to give Jay Leno a low cost interview show has happened…and a lot more.

One constant that now seems to be evolving in news stories involving the news media: newspapers seem stunned, dismayed and unsure of how to respond to the multi-fronted catastrophe that is confronting them.

Is decreasing the content or quality of content and the ease with which to get the product a way to win readers back?

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  • DLS

    “The bottom line is that the newspaper industry is now being battered down due to the Internet, its poor decisions in ignoring the Internet and how to compete with it, and its often tin-ear in providing younger readers information they want in a style they want it…without sacrificing content that older readers and other readers have come to expect. ”

    Joe, bear in mind that with not only newspapers and magazines, but also books, there’s another problem, not just faddishness and technological gadgetry-gimmickry that many prefer over plain substance.* There’s also the trend toward ignorance as well as frequent functional illiteracy; people simply aren’t seeking to be informed about the news and other things as they used to do. So much of the time younger people spend on-line is spent doing what? Not reading the news or reading other non-fictional material, but listening to music, watching videos, and so on.

    More than one trend is happening (and happening to publishers, of all kinds) right now.

    * This reminds me of the vehicle I currently own, my second Ford Ranger, a small, affordable, very unpretentious, fully functional vehicle. Harmonizing emissions — not “global warming” garbage, but serious science-based health-and-safety-hazard emissions, i.e., real pollution — laws in some states and other laws to permit introduction of small attractive-European-market vehicles and Diesel vehicles is a non-fancy, very practical thing the Congress could do any time it wanted, and one day I’d like to see something I’ve thought of for a long time, a Diesel Ranger, perhaps with a Diesel six-cylinder engine like the Mercedes project, something offering drivers perhaps 300 ft-lb of torque over 2,000-3,000 RPM (can haul a full load in the bed and tow 5,000 pounds, too) and get 30 MPG with a light load or no load. I’d like that. Small, plain, no-nonsense, functional — like a book, or a newspaper. I already like the two Rangers I’ve owned (one of which I’m hauling 500 pounds with routinely here in Detroit).

  • DLS

    1. More on the Ranger, for those who like simpler, often-smaller-and-cheaper things like Rangers, books, and newspapers:

    2. I apologize for seeming to be (?) tangential, but there’s a lesson here. Detroit often is guilty not only of a failed, decades-obsolete business model, inertia, and perhaps a willingness not to stay current with the latest developments (one source of complaints about the Ford Ranger, in fact, you can find in some of the reader remarks at the Web site to which I have provided links). Consider to what extent this is true of the publishing industry. Another example that may spring to your mind that is actually more relevent (though with newspapers, I have already said there’s a problem with younger people not being as interested in reading, period, rather than preferring the Web to printed paper*), namely the old company in an old industrial city who suffered from digital technology even though its products still are used today: Kodak.

    * Has the “paperless office” materialized as promised and gushed about? No. Printers for office and home computers are big business, because printers are frequently sought and used, and that is routinely for text-only printed pages, not for graphical material. People have _not_ rejected paper to read!

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