by Bethany M. Dunbar, January 29, 2010
If anyone knows the answer to this question, please leave it in a comment below.
Things are scary for journalists these days as we struggle to keep doing good work. Everyone who isn’t a journalist who I talk to about this says, don’t worry, we want to read the newspapers. And for us at the Chronicle at least, the circulation numbers have not dropped much at all. People are still reading the Chronicle, that’s the good news. But advertising is down, and that’s what pays, by far, the bulk of our salaries.
The size of the newspaper is determined by the advertising. We need to have about half of each page filled with advertising (on average) to pay the bills.
Is the current drop simply a function of a slow economy or of advertising shifting to the Internet?
Assuming the economy improves, we will know the answer eventually. Meanwhile newspapers all over the country are trying to do the same work with smaller staffs. We are all trying to do more with less, and it’s frustrating. I recently stumbled on a wonderfully funny group on facebook called, “Overheard in the Newsroom.”
One of the posts was a photo album of newsrooms titled, “Journalists are weird and messy.” In one of the newsrooms was a blow-up doll of some sort, possibly Spider man? With crime scene tape all around it.
It didn’t take me long to figure out that in one way, this is an online support group for journalists, with a twist of sick humor running through it.
For example, one comment overheard in the newsroom, related to our pay scale, was something like this: “At least we don’t smell like French fries.”
Some of the comments below had me cracking up, including one person who said, no, we smell like despair.
Okay, despair is kind of a strong word. But it’s January and things never look that good in January.
What does look good to me are my colleagues — those of us who are still in this business and those who have left it or been laid off. The talent of journalism is truly a talent and truly bizarre. You have to be the kind of person who really wants to know how things work, is not afraid to ask important people really stupid questions, and then can quickly boil down inch-thick court documents or legislative documents or scientific problems or economic problems into something regular people can easily understand.
When I say quickly I mean, say, in under an hour. And things will not be quiet while you are doing it. A police and fire scanner will be buzzing, and your co-workers might be having a conversation about how much detail to include in a story about a horrible child abuse case. Sure, ignore that. You’re on deadline.
You don’t have to leap tall buildings in a single bound, but you might have to interview that guy.
It’s true that all these same things can just as easily be done on the Internet, but is enough advertising going to follow us there to pay our salaries?
We shall see. As always, we will keep you posted.
Meanwhile I have to say that the Chronicle (newspaper) is still reaching about 22,500 people a week, each of whom spend an average of 40 minutes with it. The paper’s circulation is one-third that, but research shows us that typically three people read each Chronicle that is bought at a store or delivered by mail, and they spend an average of 40 minutes with it.
Does anyone ever spend 40 minutes on a web site?
When I opened up this week’s Chronicle I saw a full-page ad for a beauty salon in Newport. Jon Somes, master hair colorist, master hair cutter.
And I thought about how smart he was to go so big and splashy. Especially in a smaller paper, a full page really stands out. He will have that ad paid for in new customers within a week, would be my guess.
I’ve got to say, it made me want to get my hair cut — by someone other than my own self with a bad pair of scissors. Luckily I’m a journalist and therefore a weird, messy haircut is okay. But I’m thinking I might try to save up for the real thing with Jon Somes.
Hey, thanks again for reading. I hope you will check out the Chronicle’s web site, and, even better, pick up a newspaper and support our advertisers. Tell them where you saw their ad — please and thank you!