CBS and the Death of Newspapers

Mar 04, 2022 at 01:17 pm by INT


It’s late as I write this column, just around midnight. There’s nothing unusual about that. I tend to write my columns, stories, and books late in the evening. Apparently, that’s not the norm for most famous writers in history. Maybe I should take a clue from them. Most famous writers, it seems, were like Ernest Hemingway, waking up as soon as – or before – the sun came up to write while their creative juices flowed, and no one was around to disturb them.

Everyone seems to know I’m a night owl – my phone buzzes with text messages and calls well into the wee hours of the morning. Two nights ago, I received more than a dozen messages asking if I had watched the story about newspapers on 60 Minutes. I responded to the first three or four with something like, “I’m sure it’s the same ‘Newspapers are Dead’ story 60 Minutes does every year or two,” then finally gave in to the hysteria and watched Jon Wertheim repeat pretty much the same story Mike Wallace, Harry Reasoner, and Morley Safer recited beginning back in 2010 or so. Yes, it was the same story. Different players, different cities, but the same story.

I posted something about it on LinkedIn, which seems to be the safest place to post things. I once wrote if I were holding a party and didn’t want anyone to attend, I’d send out the invitations on LinkedIn. Low and behold, as of yesterday, more than 2,000 LinkedIn users, mostly newspaper-related folks, had read my post. A lot of them responded to it, and a bunch responded with “You’re my hero,” “Attaboy,” and similar sentiments Surprisingly, I’ve only received one “You’re so naïve” comment. I suppose that group spends more time on Snapchat than LinkedIn.

I reminded that writer that I wasn’t really in the mood for a debate, but if she wanted to place a bet, she’d be wise not to bet against me. So far, I’ve won every bet I’ve made about the future of newspapers, beginning with my now-famous bet with a university dean who asked if I thought there would be a single newspaper left in America by 2018. I said there would be. He said he believed there wouldn’t be – not one newspaper left.

I suppose I could have been more tactful, but I was younger then. My response was, “I believe that might be the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.” When asked why I felt that way, I answered, “Because if there’s not one, I’ll start one and make a fortune.” That conversation was in 2008. I keep meaning to have a shirt made with “I was right” in big letters on the back.

By now, I probably shouldn’t be surprised that there are still a lot of newspapers doing just fine. Tomorrow, I’ll be leading a webinar on Basic InDesign, a topic I must have taught several hundred times over the years. You might be surprised to know there’s a big crowd registered for the class. I guess the newspapers sending these folks to my class plan to be around a while longer.

Next week, I’ll be in Michigan for most of the week, training a weekly newspaper staff there. It would be a shame to go to all that trouble of flying from Knoxville to Detroit, driving a rental car for two hours, then spending three days with the newspaper staff just to watch them go out of business after I leave. I guess the same is true of the conventions I’ll be speaking at over the coming months.

If there were three of me, I would head down to Chattanooga, where the paper is being converted to a Sunday-only print edition and start a twice-weekly community paper. Unfortunately, I already own a few businesses, and I’m pretty sure I’d have to give up the little sleep I get to start another. I’d be willing to make another wager – that some industrious journalists will create a new paper in Chattanooga.

That reminds me a lot of the prediction I made after a 60 Minutes report nine years ago, proclaiming newspapers dead following the announcement that the New Orleans Times-Picayune would be moving away from the daily printed format. A group of business leaders in New Orleans acquired my services to get the Times-Picayune to change its mind. I recently found an email exchange from those days and giggled when I read something I wrote to the group. “Don’t worry. I’m guessing the Advocate, from Baton Rouge, won’t waste any time coming down to New Orleans and creating a new daily paper. They were thrilled when I turned out to be right.

I’m not sure how I’ll fit all of that on a tee shirt.


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