Larry Maynard has heard it numerous times: “Newspapers are dying and will totally disappear within five years,” he repeats skeptically.
“In the 1930s, radio was supposed to kill the newspapers,” he says. “In the 1950s, it was broadcast TV. In the 1980s, it was cable TV. In the 1990s, it was the Internet, but newspapers are still here.”
Maynard, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, delivered that message of hope to the Illinois Press Association convention in Springfield last week, discounting speculation that print media are on the way out. Maynard spent 25 years with Copley Press, former parent company of the State Journal-Register, and the last 15 years in newspaper consulting.
“Newspapers continue to be successful businesses,” he says. “More than 50 million consumers make a conscious decision to purchase a newspaper every Saturday and Sunday. Each week, more than 400 million people decide to purchase a daily or weekly newspaper. … There is no other consumer-provider relationship of this magnitude, for any product or service, throughout history.”
Speculation about the death of print media is undoubtedly fueled by the closings of newspapers nationwide, Maynard admits, but he points out the papers that failed all had something in common: heavy debt.
“All of the newspapers that have failed have taken on more debt than they could handle,” Maynard says. “Sam Zell (owner of the Chicago Tribune) had a brilliant idea to buy up Tribune Company, break it up and sell it off. If the economy hadn’t crashed, he would have made a fortune.”
Tribune Company filed for bankruptcy protection in December 2008, largely due to outstanding loans Zell took to purchase the company, Maynard says. In contrast to the Tribune example, he points out that most papers do not have debt problems, and newspapers in general are still profitable.
“Newspapers are the most trusted source of news with the most audience brand loyalty,” he says, adding that newspapers are the largest generators of local news. “If a consumer misses a TV or radio newscast, do they call to complain? Probably not. But what happens if your newspaper isn’t delivered? They call.”
In order to succeed, Maynard says newspapers should focus on their strengths, rather than weaknesses.
“Identify what it is that you do well, and shout it from the rooftops,” he told the newspaper industry trade group. “Do (newspapers) assume that (readers) are aware of the large amount of meaningful and relevant information you provide to them? Other media sources are more direct in communicating the message they want consumers to have.”
John Galer, an IPA board member and publisher of the Journal-News in Hillsboro, agrees that the newspaper industry isn’t dying; it’s evolving.
“Like any business, you’ve got good years and you’ve got bad years,” he says. “That’s normal. I’m not even going to say we’re in a down-cycle. I think we’re in a pretty decent cycle. We’re here to serve, and you’ve got a mission to take care of your community, so unless you’re really in debt, it shouldn’t be an issue about how you operate anyway.”
Galer says his paper is adapting to use the Internet and doing quite well. Though he concedes that low advertising revenue for newspaper websites continues to be an issue, Galer says the basic function of newspapers will always survive.
“The best thing to do is to do what we’ve always done well,” he says. “People want to know what’s going on in their world, and where do people get their news? We’re it. There’s a lot of responsibility that comes with it; we’ve got to do it right and include everybody in the process, but I think people respect us for that.”
Contact Patrick Yeagle at email@example.com.