Missoulian — R.I.P.

by Pete Talbot

The next obituary you see in the Missoulian may be the Missoulian itself – along with the Helena Independent-Record, Billings Gazette, Ravalli Republic and Butte’s Montana Standard.

I’m guessing that the loyal readers of this blog site don’t follow the day-to-day New York Stock Exchange listings of the newspaper publishing industry. I do. I’m from a newspaper family. At my grandfather’s knee, I used to watch guys turn melting lead ingots into the plates that went on the presses that then cranked out the daily paper.

Stock in Lee Enterprises, the company that owns the above-mentioned papers, is at its lowest point in a dozen years. And in less than two years, its stock has lost more than 50 percent of its value.

This does not bode well for the newspaper reading public. As Lee tries to keep its board of directors and stockholders happy, it will be cutting back on everything: reporters, editors, features and technology. It’s a downward spiral.

This is painful for a newspaper junkie like me. The first thing I do in the morning, no matter where I am, is get a cup of coffee and read the paper. I suppose that I could go on the Internet and surf around for all the news I need but it just isn’t the same.

That’s part of the irony here. The Internet is the most responsible for the death of the newspaper. Newspapers have been slow to adapt. The industry hasn’t quite figured out how to capitalize on the Internet. A few of the national newspapers of record will most likely survive – the New York Times and Washington Post and, ugh, USA Today – but the smaller dailies are in big trouble.

Newspaper online revenue from advertising is a fraction of the revenue a paper gets from the full-page ads, glossy inserts and classified advertising one sees in the daily rag. For example, who needs a daily’s want ads when you can go to Craig’s List on the Internet?

Despite my (and many of my blogging colleagues’) constant criticism of the mainstream media’s failings, I believe newspapers play an important role in society. I also believe that most reporters and editors strive to be objective in their craft. The same cannot be said about the many blog sites out there and it is important to have a measuring stick – a sort of mainstream public pulse – on which to gauge the rants of bloggers.

Newspapers (and to a lesser extent, other periodicals, TV and radio) aren’t called the Fourth Estate for nothing. It’s a brave new world and it is my sincere hope that real journalism can survive the death of the daily.

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  1. Pete, I mean no offense, but you do have a tendency to the trigger too soon. Without the print media, most online news sources are left adrift. The rumors of print death are grossly exaggerated.

  2. petetalbot

    Oh-oh, I see a firearm analogy here. Seriously, I’ve may have been a little over-dramatic in my prose. We’ll chalk it up to artistic license. But daily newspapers are on the ropes with the a few notable exceptions, like Rupert Murdock’s $5 billion buyout of the Wall Street Journal.

  3. I don’t think Pete’s saying papers are in danger of folding, just that they’ll continue their downward spiral as far as quality is concerned…

  4. Heh, I’m aware of that Jay. But all source is organic in its provision (whether it be water, inspiration, knowledge or news.) Print media is suffering right now. But the alternatives have yet to come up with a good method of reporting accurately without the use of reporters to do the labor. Powerline ain’t gonna pay ’em, and neither will 4&20. As things look more terribly grim for print media, those seeking news (whether secondary providers like bloggers, or the consumers) will happily begin to put their money where their need is. Hell, I subscribed to the Comical for pity’s sake. And advertisers will follow the revenue.

    Unless … people just don’t care about the news anymore, and will happily pay for opinion masquerading as news. Advertisers follow. That’s a scary thought, isn’t it?

  5. Chris S

    I may be a little late in finding this post but I agree that the Missoulain is almost dead. it is a sad thing to pick up a paper here in Missoula and pay 75 cents for a weekday paper that is so thin. for example look at the spokesman review it is 5 time thicker and has more news in a slow day then the Missoulian has on Sunday. Come on Lee wake up and smell the coffee, We want news not opinions what is happening in Montana, Idaho and eastern Washington that affect Missoula or Montana for that matter. I don’t care about fluff, leave that for the TV stations who have anemic coverage KECI has 10 minutes of news and KPAX maybe has 15 before the get to Sports and Weather. personally I don’t care about a lot of Sports or High school sports but what is going on in the world there is enough news in Montana to make an hour long broadcast every day, at least ABC is honest with the 10 at 10. I canceled my subscription almost a year ago and I don’t miss it that much and the Missoulian’s website is extremely hard to navigate now every thing I want to read wants me to subscribe to read it maybe the Kiaman should take over our local paper at least we would get interesting stories

  6. Jim Lang

    I agree with Chris – and with you Pete, in that I love newspapers. But I decided long ago that the Missoulian was not worth 50 cents (is it really up to 75?!). There’s just not enough there. A few local stories, mostly fluff, a few AP stories, and that’s it.

    If they actually put out a product that was worth buying, maybe their stock would also be worth something.

    Perhaps if they were to fold it would make room for something better.

  1. 1 Newspapers, blogs and democracy « 4&20 blackbirds

    […] daily newspaper is on the ropes.  I’ve written about this before.  It’s trying to make the digital transition but hasn’t really succeeded.  I’ll […]




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