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This news media blog explores the nexus between the press, the public and technology with two missions. One, to engage citizens in an online conversation about the role of the news media in their lives, in the hope that they will use and critique the media more effectively. And secondly to explore how the press can remain relevant, essential and accountable to citizens and communities.

Mike Fancher is Editor at Large of The Seattle Times.

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April 11, 2008 3:50 PM

Enough is enough, says longtime observer of newspapers

Posted by Mike Fancher

John Morton, one of the newspaper industry's senior analysts, says newspapers that are cutting costs to maintain high profits are wrongheaded and threaten their own futures.

Morton's comments come in an article entitled, "Enough is enough," in the American Journalism Review.

Newspapers are cutting back. Newsroom layoffs are widespread. News space has shrunk as newspapers consolidate sections and eliminate customary features. Circulation, on the wane since the late 1980s, is being deliberately reduced to eliminate unprofitable delivery in areas far from core markets...

Can newspapers really expect to recapture what they have lost with less circulation, a thinner newspaper offering fewer services to readers, with editorial products undermined in breadth and depth by layoffs and space constrictions? I think not.

He observes that newspapers are trying to transform for a future online, but he argues that a successful Internet-print future may be a long time in coming.

And if newspapers embark on this future with lesser journalistic products, less circulation, less standing in their markets, the profits of the future likely will be much less than newspapers are accustomed to.

I will point out that despite weak advertising and all the other woes newspapers endured last year, the average operating profit margin of the publicly owned companies' newspaper operations was 17 percent. Most non-media businesses couldn't hope to achieve even half that in the best of times.

A good chunk of those profits came, you guessed it, from cost-cutting, with inevitable damage to newspapers' standing in their markets. If newspapers hope to survive the Internet transformation, in which their brand name and reputation will be paramount to success, they must stop the ax-wielding and accept that the era of exceptional profitability is over. Or should be.

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