Is the shift real or perceived?

Sometimes a simple choice of a word can make all the difference in how we think. John Morton, the dean of American newspaper analysts, writes for the American Journalism Review (Enough is Enough) that by relentless cost-cutting, newspapers are committing a form of suicide. He calls cutbacks “wrongheaded” and “shortsighted” and believes they threaten the future of the industry altogether.

He writes that the days of “exceptional profits” for media companies are over, and he worries that the brand name and reputation of papers needs protecting as we move forward.

Mr. Morton has been around a long time, and there’s certainly room for his position in the broader discussion of media disruption. It’s true that when push comes to shove with public companies, the bottom line is all that matters, and adjustments by cutting staff, while not easy, are a necessary part of survival.

But John Morton’s thinking about the suicidal nature of such cuts is colored by questions over the validity of the disruption:

All these reductions are a response to two years of declining revenue and profit and a perceived shift of readers and advertisers to the Internet.

Perceived shift? Perceived? That’s not a slip of the pen keyboard, I suspect, and it underscores the difficulty of accepting change in the culture of skepticism that envelopes most newsrooms. After all, if all of this is just a “perceived shift,” then it’s not really real, right? Advertisers aren’t really moving money to the Web, and consumers aren’t really getting their news and information online, right? It’s all just a matter of perception.

Or not.


  1. The one question I don’t get is how do you grow a business when you cut back on resources?

    This isn’t a case where people cut 13 out of the newspapers newsroom and add 13 on the interactive side. While it’s true that media organizations increased and built a web staff over the last few years, most of the time this was on pace with online revenue growth.

    Now the new thing to do is cut back and layoff. Not retool or reorganize.

    How do you save your way to prosperity? How do you save your way to prosperity when Silicon Valley startups are pouring millions in everyday starting new businesses that you should be investing in? Why aren’t the Scripps, Belos, Coxes, McClatchy’s, Gannett’s of the world not investing in more of these types of businesses instead of trying to build them in-house with the same crew who manages / maintenances the entire network of news websites.

    This is where we are broken. And while Morton is waaaay off about a “perceived shift” (interesting that it’s perceived when there’s real numbers on paper to back it up), he’s right about the way media companies are behaving and that it could be suicidal for them in the end.

    Media companies, incidentally that are run by guys who are 2–5 years away from retirement whom think if they can just ride it out for a couple more years, cash out and leave the problems for someone else to figure out.

    Of course it’ll be too late then.

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