Ugly Week for Print Media

It was a terrible week for the mainstream media in a year that I’ve called the Great Media Collapse of 2009.  The struggling economy, plummeting ad sales, and the proliferation of content on the web as been a 1-2-3 punch that the traditional press has been unable to withstand.

But the news this week seemed worse than usual.

Print Media: "No seriously, I feel fine."

The Wall Street Journal – despite being the only national newspaper to show signs of growth – announced this week that it was shuttering its Boston bureau on December 31.  The WSJ said nine of the 12 Boston based reporters would be laid-off and three reassigned.

This is not only a blow for business journalism, but bad news for Boston.  The WSJ has no plans to shutdown any of its other 36 bureaus and had this to say about closing Boston operations (via the Boston Globe):

“We are not giving up on the beats; we are just relocating them,’’ Robert Christie, Journal spokesman said. “A lot of the companies that we used to cover are no longer in Boston and a lot of the jobs that were in Boston could be located anywhere in the US.’’

It has long been feared by Bostonians that the “Hub of the Universe” was losing its ranking as an important major city in the U.S.  It’s clear that the WSJ is of that mindset and no longer considers Boston an important geography for comprehensive national business coverage.  This is a big slight, especially for the technology and health care sectors in Massachusetts and in greater New England.

The WSJ is basically telling Boston that it is no longer important enough to focus on. Consider this: Would the WSJ ever consider shutting down operations in Silicon Valley?

Unlikely.  Silicon Valley is considered too important – especially in technology innovation.  So what does this decision ultimately say about Boston?

Then there was the news from Forbes.  There was another round of lay-offs at the staid business magazine and just so Boston didn’t feel it was being singled out – Forbes closed its Los Angles bureau.  Here’s what publisher Steve Forbes had to say, according to the New York Times:

“We — and the entire media world — have been hit hard by both the severe recession and the seismic shifts wrought by the Web,” Mr. Forbes wrote. “Given these dramatic events, further layoffs, unfortunately, are necessary across the entire organization.”

The Great Media Collapse has not been kind to business publications.  Fortune is down to publishing 18 issues a year (about once every three weeks).  BusinessWeek – losing money like a broken dam loses water – sold for less than a 4-bedroom condo in downtown Manhattan earlier this month ($5 million) and will likely be reducing staff by significant levels.  And, of course, Portfolio magazine shutdown in April after being launched amid much fanfare (it last slightly more than two years).

If all of these lay-offs and closings weren’t bad enough, this week also featured the release of the newspapers industry’s circulation numbers from the Audit Bureau of Circulations.  The numbers were bleak – down 10 percent from last year at this time.  The entire industry sold less newspapers per day than at any time prior to 1940.

The question now isn’t so much if the newspaper industry will survive, but when will the death be official.

The print media has had a brutal year, but it can’t withstand many more weeks like this one.

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3 Responses to “Ugly Week for Print Media”

  1. Good summary, George. I, too, cringed at the WSJ decision, having been someone who figured WSJ was weathering the storm better than most. That may be true, but, as you point out, this is a bigger comment on the state of the Boston market.

  2. Your title “Great Media Collapse of 2009” is very telling. It evidences information suffocation, which I wrote about at

  3. Hi Elfie:
    The WSJ certainly sent a message to Massachusetts about how much it values our businesses here…

    Hi Mitch:
    That’s an excellent blog post that brings up some interesting points about our national slide into ignorance. But it’s worse that just being ill-informed as we stop watching TV and cable news and abandon newspapers.

    These objective news outlets (we can argue about whether objectivity is really possible – but at least most professional news gathering operations strive for it) are being replaced by propaganda outlets – like FOX-News and MSNBC.

    These outlets don’t even pretending to be objective and don’t provide fair and balanced reporting. So not only are more people uninformed, but growing numbers are ill-informed. That’s a bad recipe.

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