Newspapers’ free fall may be slowing

21 09 2009

Ad revenue declines are slowing, according to the Newspaper Association of America, as reported in today’s New York Times:

“In what passes for good news these days, the free fall in newspaper advertising may be slowing, and specialists predict it will ease through 2009 and into 2010. …0921-biz-PAPERweb

Ordinarily, such numbers would be seen as catastrophic, but these times are not ordinary. The drop in combined print and digital ad revenue last year, 16.6 percent, according to the Newspaper Association of America, was the worst since the Depression. But it looks rosy next to 2009, when revenue fell 28.3 percent in the first quarter and 29 percent in the second.”

It’s natural to look for a silver lining, and there are signs of recovery in the retail sector on which newspapers depend for revenue. But forecasts of ad spending are mixed.

But newspapers need to see the revenue bottom soon. Most have cut expenses so deeply that the corresponding decline in quality threatens their ability to bounce back even when the economy revives. When advertisers decide to start spending again, they’ll have to question whether the long-suffering newspapers will bring them the return they so desperately need.

What if newspaper publishers combined their best minds toward cooperatively strengthening their news product, say, with hard-hitting issue-oriented journalism that can shape the important debates on foreign policy, health care, the financial sector and other critical areas just in time for advertisers to notice newspapers when they allotted their dollars? Couldn’t hurt.

UPDATE: I see that some on the Internet are taking Obama’s kind words for newspapers as a slam at blogs:

Mr. Obama said he noted the trend. “I am concerned that if the direction of the news is all blogosphere, all opinions, with no serious fact-checking, no serious attempts to put stories in context, that what you will end up getting is people shouting at each other across the void but not a lot of mutual understanding,” the President said.

Hey, if the shoe fits …

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