There’s nothing worse than getting bad press. And the press gets plenty of it.
If I read another AP story about how the Internet is killing the newspaper business, I’ll punch a hole in the wall.
When pollsters call and ask people where they get their news, people never admit they don’t get any news. They think, “I was on the Internet and there’s news on the Internet,” then say that’s where they get their news. The same for TV.
When I’m asked what is the newspaper’s biggest competitor I don’t say the Internet or TV or radio, I say it is anything people do instead of reading the paper. It could be jogging or sleeping in or commuting to work.
Katharine Weymouth, publisher of the Washington Post and granddaughter of Katharine Graham, had some interesting observations on this and other topics during an interview at a conference at the Poynter Institute in Florida. She was interviewed by Poynter President Karen Dunlap. There are plans to air the interview on CSPAN.
Asked about the presumed demise of the newspaper industry, Weymouth replied:
“To your first point, I think it’s us. We write the story all day long. ‘Print is dead, print is dead.’ And I actually asked one of our journalists once, I said, ‘Why are you always writing about newspapers?’ And he said, ‘Because I’m not interested in the other media. I work at a newspaper.’
“But you don’t see Katie Couric doing a segment on ‘Nightly News’ about the decline of ‘Nightly News,’ right? So we don’t do ourselves any favors. We still have more readers than we have ever had. It’s just on different platforms. …”
Asked about the future business model for newspapers, the publisher said:
“I’m not a believer that there’s a magic bullet, but if I find it or if any of you have it I’d love to take it.
“But I think when you look at the history of journalism, it really is, and people have written a lot about this, it’s an anomaly.
“The profitability that newspapers sustained in this last century was an anomaly. Newspapers were not profitable for most of their lives. And as Warren Buffett would say, when it was profitable, it was a toll booth.
“It was a brilliant model. If you were an advertiser and you wanted to reach the local audience, you had to advertise in the newspaper. So our classified section — for those of us local newspapers — were terrific and brought us in hundreds of millions of dollars. If you were going to buy a car, if you were going to get a job, you went to The Washington Post. Of course, you still do today, it just may be online.
“So, the whole world has changed. People are on Craigslist and eBay and Monster and AutoTrader, and you name it.
“There are a thousand different companies coming after almost every niche we’re in.
“So I think when we had money to invest, we invested it back in the newsroom, which is where we should invest it. But at this point, we just, we have to cut back. We have to have a smaller cost structure, which is not fun, and it’s not glamorous, but in order to sustain the kind of quality journalism we all believe in, we have to do that so we can continue to do it and continue to invest in our journalism. And at the same time, experiment on new platforms.
“We are gonna be on the iPad, we are on the iPhone. You can have podcasts, you can get us on the Internet, so we will be where our readers want to be.”
The business is journalism.