Panic Cost Cutting
For some time, I've followed the spate of newspapers planning to fire the Associated Press and getting their news elsewhere, thank you very much. Papers planning to opt out:
Aug. 20, 2008: The Spokesman-Review of Spokane, the Yakima Herald-Republic and The Wenatchee World—all in Washington state—and The Bakersfield Californian.
Aug. 28, 2008: Minneapolis Star Tribune.
Oct. 16, 2008: The Tribune Co. (Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Fort Lauderdale's Sun Sentinel, the Orlando Sentinel, Red Eye of Chicago, Hartford Courant, the Baltimore Sun, The Morning Call in Allentown, Pa. and the Daily Press of Newport News, Va.).
Yes, newspapers are taking a beating as a result of the lousy economy and, more importantly, advertisers migrating from print to digital. "The decline in [the top 25] newspapers' paid circulation is accelerating, according to new statistics today from the Audit Bureau of Circulations" wrote Nat Ives in AdAge.com this morning. "Papers' average weekday paid circulation fell to 38.2 million copies across the six months ending Sept. 30, down 4.64% from the equivalent period a year earlier. That's a faster fall than was seen this time last year, when the audit bureau reported just a 2.6% decline."
But is it smart for a newspaper (or any business for that matter) to commit hara-kiri—disemboweling itself in the scramble for savings?
A Personal Digression
In 1954, Henry Holt & Co. signed my father, Alden Hatch, to write a biography of Clare Boothe Luce, playwright, former congresswoman, wife of TIME-LIFE publisher, Henry R. Luce, and at the time President Eisenhower's ambassador to Italy. I was invited to skip a semester of college to go along and spend six weeks in Rome during that fall.
At a party given by Mrs. Luce at Villa Taverna, the ambassador's official residence, my father met the AP bureau chief in Rome, Stanley M. Swinton, a hard-driving, hard-drinking, chain-smoking bachelor whose newspaper skills were honed at the Stars & Stripes in Europe during World War II. I remember Swinton as being chunky with a neck like an NFL tackle, black hair, a strong jaw and a wicked glint in his eye. He made it a point to know everybody worth knowing in Italy and delighting them with his rapid-fire repartee; wide-ranging knowledge of history and politics; and endless anecdotes of encounters with the world's rich, famous, powerful and horny.