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Newspapers Beaten to a Pulp


Old-fangled medium fights for survival.

On the wall of the lobby of the Baltimore Sun is a quote, reprinted in large type, from its great columnist H.L. Mencken. It reads:

"As I look back over a misspent life, I find myself more and more convinced that I had more fun doing news reporting than in any other enterprise. It is really the life of kings."

The quote is nostalgic and romantic, and I'm reminded of it every time I read another death notice for newspapers: Indeed, they're in bad shape, knocked flat on the canvas and in danger of staying down for the count.

While Mencken and the reporters of past generations dreamed of being newspapemen, the idea is anathema to younger generations -- they either read the news online, or not at all. The shift has been calamitous: Newspapers have as yet been unable to monetize their online operations.

In mid-September, the major newspaper companies all reported a drop in advertising revenue: The New York Times Company (NYT) was down 14%, McClatchy (MNI) was down 16%, Gannett (GCI) was down 17% and Media General (MEG) was down 4.4%. The stock prices of the New York Times Company and Media General, however, went up on online ad revenue increases within the overall drop.

Tom Corbett, who follows media companies for Morningstar, a Chicago-based independent research firm, told MarketWatch: "For every dollar they lose in print ad revenue, [newspapers'] online operations, industrywide, are recapturing maybe $0.14. These are companies trying to keep their heads above water."
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