Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Is the Flint Journal in a Death Spiral?

Freefromeditors, a blog that's been a font of insider dope in the past, has some unhappy news about the fate of The Flint Journal — layoffs, mandatory salary and benefit cuts, and a paper that only comes out three days a week.


  1. Geez, after the paper goes... who's left to turn out the light?

  2. hate to see it happen. the editor of pee-town's paper-Petoskey News Review-assures us all that the stories of newspapers folding across the country are being blown out of proportion. uh....yeah, right.

  3. Two weeks ago this Friday, I drove over to Flint and like most of my visits to the "mini-motor city", I picked up a copy of the Flint Journal to read. There were a couple of things that surprised me about the paper that just reinforced my opinion that it wasn't the same newspaper that I grew up with and that the newspaper was reflecting just how bad things are in the city.

    1) I noticed that there was very little local content in the "Entertainer" section of the Friday Journal...and people that use to write for the newspaper with a Flint Journal byline no longer have one -- i.e., such as the arts critic Bradley (if I remember his last name correctly) now works for the FIA.


    2) The classified section was incredibly thin -- with the Journal doing their best to fill up about three and a quarter pages out of four with ads.

    Newspapers in towns bigger than Flint are folding and we shouldn't be too surprised to see what's happening to the Journal -- but it's sad to see.

  4. From a Paperboy in the 60s this is very sad.

  5. Best job I've ever had -- June '65 to June '66 -- working on a motor route for The Journal. Every day for a year rolling up 1100 papers for 'throws' along a daily hundred mile route, and delivering -- I can't recall how many -- 'bundles' for the neighborhood delivery kids. Twice that year the mail didn't go through due to weather but the newspaper did -- at least our portion of it.

  6. Few under the age of 40 read the paper anymore. They get their "news" from blogs like this one and online forums. Unrinalism... er... journalism has moved to the world wide web, where it is free, plentiful, and can easily be customized to match your own personal prejudices and opinions.
    The daily newspaper, at least the tactile version, seems to be dying. Perhaps, if there is still some remaining demand for an actual newsPAPER, we'll see a rise of weeklies.
    Could we see a return of Uncommon Sense? I gotta believe the regional gambling magazine the publishers started after the death of UcS has to be tanking if not already dead.

  7. As a journalist, I'm often amazed when people think that they'll just get their news from the web when papers die. Well, if you take away the news reported by papers, there really isn't a lot of news on the web.

    Blogs? Please. Take Flint Expatriates, for example. I'm a journalist, but I'd say 25% of this blog, at best, is based on my actual reporting. The rest is just me riffing off something in a daily paper — typically the Flint Journal — or some other blog.

    I see blogs as an interesting augmentation of traditional journalism, but they aren't really journalism.

    I hate to tell people that if you kill the daily newspapers, you kill the various funny/clever/quirky blogs along with them.

    And, far more importantly, even bad papers are vital in a democracy. You think business leaders and politicians run wild now? Wait until there are no newspapers left to keep minimal tabs on them.

    I'm just not sure people realize what they are about to lose.

    (Of course, I say all this knowing that newspaper management botched this whole thing. Whose idea was it to give away their content on line for free? What kind of a lame-ass business model is that? People think G.M. screwed up. What about the newspaper industry?)

  8. I know. Many (most?) prefer "news" that has already been filtered through a blog or aggregator or website that fits their own personal perspective and/or schema. I know this ain't news, but it fits the bill for many.
    The future of "news" isn't reporting, but rather opinion, half-truths, and conjecture. I know this isn't really news, but if most Americans could care about the distinction, well... that's news to me.

  9. My own guess - hope - is that there will be a rebirth of the small independent, locally owned papers.

  10. Three Days a Week? Good luck selling ANY papers.

    As for the mistakes of the newspapers, it's not so much a matter of stupid moves as it was a matter of not properly reading the coming changes. Sure, papers stood up to Radio and Television to make their marks, but Radio and Television were appointment-based mediums, which left Newspapers as the news source you could schedule in your time. The Internet not only gave flexibility, but was cleaner (no muss, no fuss) and could be changed around to fit your viewpoint. By the time newspapers could think of responding to that, the idea of making people pay for product (outside of internet access) had become impossible to carry out.

    A similar case to this is what's happened to the Music Industry. So fixated were they on selling platters and stopping piracy that they totally missed their chance to control how music files were traded (and at what cost). While people would say "good riddance, they deserve it" it's still a similar tale to what's happening in the newspaper industry.

  11. Today's the last day of the intro journalism course I'm teaching this quarter, and their final assignment is to present their blueprint for the newsroom of the future. Should be fun to see what they come up with. I'll post some of their ideas.

    This transformation has been hard to watch. I was one of those odd kids who just loved reading the newspaper. I couldn't believe they got all this stuff into a paper...every day! And even though by normal standards it was a pretty crappy job — low pay, very long hours, and hardly any glory — I loved working at newspapers.

  12. I used to work for a large media company, and a few of the sister companies were newspapers.

    From what I learned, the only thing important to a paper is advertising and subscription levels, everything else is a cost. There's an imbalance there now, and the spinning top is toppling.

    Let's think back to the 90's when that internet bubble hit us. Back then newspapers saw the internet as a competitor, not as a new medium... at least not in time to dominate it. Who could have foreseen that those websites would be so popular back then? And while I remember venture capitalists roaming the halls and peppering their sentences with 3 syllable words, I'm not sure they grasped it either.

    I don't think they realized in time how integral to our lives the internet would become. I'm still someone who likes to sit with a paper. When people were saying we'll become a paperless society, I scoffed at them because reading a screen hurts your eyes, and you can't take the internet with you on the train to read the paper. But the IT generation (as I call them - just made that up actually) have grown up with computers, so reading a screen is what they are used to. And with wireless and mobile units, you CAN take it with you.

    So back in the 90's everyone was trying to get rich quick with a web startup. Users were on the internet, so that's where advertisers were focussing their dollars. I remember being amazed that everyone was taking these websites so seriously, so you can guess, I missed out on that cash cow.

    Don't forget the 24 hour news TV began to dominate back then too. It's much easier to WATCH news than to READ it. And now youtube has added another dimension to local "news".

    In any event, it was a shift that couldn't be stopped. Classified ads that once went to newspapers were now morphed into career websites, ebay and craigslist, etc. Advertising dollars were going to other mediums (TV, internet).

    In order for newspapers to catch up, they would need to push the money toward I.T. and Marketing... so that's an added cost to the paper as well.

    So this was a shift that couldn't be stopped. It is similar with television today... most people were watching shows purchased off of itunes or downloading them illegally. So the TV guys created hulu... and just in time too, because it's working for them instead of against them.

    There are many things about the internet that don't make sense to me, and yet I spend alot of time on it. Shopping on the internet, blogs, and all those people-networking sites have become the norm now. I complain about the internet and yet I use it everyday to voice my complaint.

    Not sure if you guys saw this one yet, but this might be the norm for tomorrow. Maybe there's hope for the "printed page" with Harry Potter style newspapers. :)


  13. Gordy, as an editorial cartoonist, I would be the proverbial choir to whom you are preaching. The newspaper industry has screwed up so badly and with such consistency, we'd all be hard pressed to find an example of more disastrous decision-making (written with full ironic awareness that I'm posting this comment to a Flint blog). Boy oh boy, if you ever want to share a bottle...

  14. But even the IT generation (great name, by the way) has not converted to going totally paperless when it comes to books - I don't know of anyone reading Tolstoy on their Blackberry yet.

    And, let's be honest. Most people LOVE seeing their name in print - wedding announcements or their kid's picture in the paper when they make a goal, touchdown or what have you. There is something special about handing Grandma a newspaper with picture in it - e-mailing the link just isn't the same.

    I realize that what I am describing sounds less like journalism and more like the society pages or lifestyle sections but the point is to give the customer what they want. Most newspapers haven't done that, which is why they haven't been able to keep their subscribers.

    It doesn't appear that the failing papers are losing subscriptions because people are reading their paper online for free, it seems that they are losing the reader to other news sources.

    Personally, I blame this on the Gannetts and Knight Ridders - the cookie cutter approach to business - what works with the people in New York City will work with the people in Amarillo.

    I still think there is an opportunity for small indie papers to come in and succeed. They might need to go back to the basics (just the facts without pushing an agenda) but with an innovative approach. In this world of 24-hour constantly "Breaking News" flashes of overtly biased stories of little significance, that would be refreshing!

    But then again, what do I know? I haven't worked for a paper since I was editor of the Powerline, which Gordie will be quick to point out, sucked! :)

  15. Here's a nice little fluff piece from a guy who is constantly attacked by your run-of-the-mill racist white crackers.


    It may be a "feel good" piece, but whats so bad about feeling good?

  16. It seems at the most basic level, the newspapers should be asking what they can offer that the internet cannot. Maybe the printed media is becoming impractical to produce, but there has to be some kind of news that people would want to pay for. It seems that simplification and intuitive automation are the way to go.

    I'd subscribe to a news feed that made my life and decisions easier -not being force-fed someone's viewpoint or boring news from city hall that has no apparent value to my day to day life. I'm not interested to dig to find relevant information. They should take Google's initiative to let people have a way to sort through the myriad of web info a step further and be known for taking the time and effort to distinguish the signal-to-noise ratio in that information so people have time and energy for other things.

    I want short, relevant pieces of information that I can drill down into if I so choose (and then enjoy some (quality journalism). The days of pushing the agenda of the paper, not the reader are over. The days of newspapers assuming that people will faithfully read through or skim their articles for information are over.

    I believe the successful news service of the future will provide this kind of value, making people's lives easier in only a few reliable minutes a day.

  17. I don't know... having to keep clicking on a story for more info, I doubt I'd bother.

    I am a bit of a Franklin in that I do the opposite of what I preach. While I love to read the paper, and take the time and come across articles I'd never read otherwise, I currently don't read a paper. And while Aaron's idea of quick fix of news tailored for me would probably work, I cannot advocate it because to me reading the paper is a journey... one I don't have time for currently, but that's how I view reading the news.

    I will humbly admit most of my news I've learned from Jon Stewart, AOL, and SNL. But don't give up on me yet, as my husband likes to read up on everything, so I get cliff notes from him. ;)


Thanks for commenting. I moderate comments, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. You might enjoy my book about Flint called "Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City," a Michigan Notable Book for 2014 and a finalist for the 33rd Annual Northern California Book Award for Creative NonFiction. Filmmaker Michael Moore described Teardown as "a brilliant chronicle of the Mad Maxization of a once-great American city." More information about Teardown is available at www.teardownbook.com.