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What have they done with the news?

The day of do-it-yourself news has arrived. Now, I'm seriously wondering if I need a newspaper anymore to get me started in the morning.
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Apr 11, 2011, 2:57 pm
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What have they done with the news?

Sliced it, diced it, trimmed the fat, and now they’re grinding up the bone.

Nimble Internet startups, and a bursting housing bubble, have not just ruined the business model of ossified newspaper chains, they’re putting them out to pasture.

For years, newspaper chains rode high, fat and happy with 30 percent profit margins and not much reason to change. They sniffed at newcomers like Craigslist and independent news sites, they rolled their eyes at the reporting possibilities of the Internet, they were certain that THEY didn’t need to change. In fact, they borrowed heavily to expand the same-old herd, buying up smaller papers across the country.

Then online classifieds and auctions ruined the print classified business. Google and Groupon and local sites ate away at display ads.

And other websites, not caught in the groove of print newspaper deadlines, got to the news faster. People became used to having today’s news today, not tomorrow or the day after.

An economic shift took away the real estate and home improvement ads. Department stores and grocery stores stopped buying full pages and color inserts.

But, through it all, the honchos of the newspaper chains (facing hundredcs of millions or even billions in impossible-to-pay loans) wanted to maintain those profit margins. But the pursuit of black ink has gutted many a paper.

The solution to a declining revenue stream and shrinking audience? Cut the number of reporters, the number of local stories, the number of pages, or even shut down a newspaper altogether.

Gannett, the former publisher of the Tucson Citizen, has fired 30 percent of its workforce nationwide over the past few years. Lee Enterprises, publisher of the Star (which Gannett maintains an interest in), has cut and furloughed many reporters as well.

Television hasn’t been immune; many TV reporters are looking for work, too.

Rather than invest in a changing business, newspaper companies seem poised to ride their pony until it sighs its last.

So don’t blame the Star’s police reporter for missing a story. There aren’t many reporters to be found in any newsroom over the weekend any more.

Sadly, there aren’t many reporters to be found in newspaper newsrooms any more.

Don’t blame their editors, either. We talking about business decisions that get made far from Tucson, in boardrooms in Iowa or Virginia.

So what can you do?

You can look things up yourself, of course. Local police, sheriffs, and courts make a lot of information available online. Some reports are posted, some you must request and pay for.

Or, if you’re concerned about maintaining quality, in-depth journalism, support your local nonprofit news organziation.

TucsonSentinel.com is more concerned about bringing you excellent reporting than enviable profit margins. The money from our supporters and donors goes directly into our work, to fund more journalism about the challenges facing Southern Arizona.

At the moment, our focus is not on crime and public safety stories. Television especially, with its “if it bleeds, it leads” ethos, manages to do a great many street corner standups. With their 60 or 90-second stories, they don’t tackle many complex reports.

As you’re very aware, Tom, good public safety reporting requires a serious dedication of resources, to follow cases through investigations and court hearings, trials and appeals.

We’re still a small, boot-strapped outfit; we don’t have tens of millions to toss around. So, with a few significant exceptions, we’re focused on other, non-crime reporting, bringing you detailed stories you won’t find elsewhere.

Readers: As always, we want to hear what you think. How’re we doing? What are we getting right and what would you change? Thanks to Tom for sparking a few thoughts from me, and thanks to everyone for their continuing contributions….


Dylan Smith
Editor & Publisher

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