BOB GARFIELD: From WNYC in New York, this is NPR's On the Media, devoted this week to the future of the newspaper. I'm Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I'm Brooke Gladstone. I predict that soon the phrase “reading the newspaper” will be as quaintly outdated as “dialing the phone.” I predict that paper newspapers will be a luxury reserved for those willing to pay a lot for the Sunday ritual of swapping sections with loved ones. I predict that newspapers will cease to be one-stop info shops and begin to focus on reporting in specific areas, while also serving as reliable aggregators, collators and filters for the rest of the news. I predict that many of America’s great newspapers will survive. I predict these things at very little cost to me because nobody will remember anyway. For instance, Douglas McIntyre, editor of 24/7 Wall Street, predicted that eight of the country’s top fifty daily papers would cease publication within 18 months. That was about 19 months ago, and all of them are still publishing.
DOUGLAS McINTYRE: No, I think what we did is we picked - our fault - the wrong newspapers. We looked at the large markets and what happened is, is that Denver went out of business and Seattle went out of business and Arizona went out of business. So I think from the standpoint of sentiment, we were right. From the standpoint of picking the markets, we were wrong.
MARGARET SULLIVAN; I think newspapers will be around, in one form or another, for a long, long time.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Margaret Sullivan is the editor of The Buffalo News in New York. If McIntyre’s glass is half empty, hers is half full.
MARGARET SULLIVAN: I think there was a period of catastrophizing about a year ago. The combination of the recession and a very quick decline in newspaper revenue combined to um, make it seem as though newspapers were about to close their doors, but they really haven't.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But many smaller papers have passed away – The Tucson Citizen, The Rocky Mountain News, The Baltimore Examiner, Kentucky Post, Cincinnati Post, King County Journal, Union City Register Tribune.
MARGARET SULLIVAN: In almost every case, those papers had competition in their cities or their regions, and that’s something that’s been changing for a long time and is nothing new. Where you'd be particularly concerned is if a substantial size city or region had no daily newspaper, and that is not happening.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Maybe Ann Arbor, Michigan doesn't count as substantial, or maybe it doesn't count because its daily paper still exists online. It all depends on what you count. Douglas McIntyre of 24/7 Wall Street counts everything, the decline in print advertising - most newspapers’ largest source of funding - and printing costs, which account for half of many newspapers’ expenses.
DOUGLAS McINTYRE: If you look at the twenty-five largest newspapers by circulation, a number of those newspapers cut their circulations by 10 to 20 percent in the last year. To me, there’s not much of a distinction between having to cut your distribution base that rapidly and going completely out of business.
MARGARET SULLIVAN: There’s no question that print advertising revenue is down substantially.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Margaret Sullivan.
MARGARET SULLIVAN: It has stabilized quite a bit, which is good. I mean, I think the reason that a year ago or 18 months ago we were seeing these dire predictions is that it seems as though that was in freefall. I think that freefall has stopped. And part of the reason for that is that the recession has eased, and part of it is that we've cut expenses drastically, and so we're, we’re getting our bottom line in better balance.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: In fact, the profit margin for The New York Times may improve this year.
DOUGLAS McINTYRE: Well, that’s going from a loss, [LAUGHING] which in the business of publicly-held companies doesn't count much.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Douglas McIntyre.
DOUGLAS McINTYRE: Except for Rupert Murdoch, the newspaper industry has no access to capital. The largest newspaper companies in the United States, with the exception of The Washington Post Company, borrowed lots and lots of money, and they mostly borrowed it to buy other newspapers. The newspaper industry thought that the newspaper industry was a good business. So you have huge companies like McClatchy, which own the Detroit paper, they own the Miami paper, I mean, they own a number of the largest papers in the United States, and they have two billion dollars in debt.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Glass half empty.
MARGARET SULLIVAN: Readership is great.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Glass half full.
MARGARET SULLIVAN: We've never had better readership than we have now because we have all the people who read us online and all the people who continue to read us in print.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And finally, I predict that the argument over the future of the newspaper will grow less shrill as the surviving institutions get on with the business of surviving, with possible help from the government, cooperative ventures, Google – yes, Google – and even users. It’s all a part of this week’s review of –
JINGLE: Present and Future Business Models for Monetizing the Newspaper Industry.