When the river runs dry

Dick Jeffrey

The Omaha World-Herald, Photo: Dick Jeffrey

The Omaha World-Herald became the latest casualty of the Internet today.  It joined a growing group of newspapers that are cutting printed editions in the face of declining circulation, higher newsprint costs, a slack economy  and an entire generation of news consumers who simply don’t subscribe to newspapers.  These consumers get their information for free and they get it from the Internet.

Here’s the story:

The Omaha World-Herald will eliminate one of its five daily editions on Feb. 2 and stop same-day delivery in much of western Nebraska to save money.

The newspaper delivery changes announced Tuesday come less than two months after the World-Herald eliminated 51 jobs to deal with rising newsprint costs and the recession.

The World-Herald said about 12,000 subscribers in western Nebraska will lose same-day delivery. Spokesman Joel Long said those subscribers will be offered either mail delivery or a subscription to an online replica of the newspaper.

Long said the employee-owned World-Herald doesn’t expect to lose all those subscribers. He said the newspaper has a daily circulation of 169,722 and a Sunday circulation of 216,285.”

The OWH’s move comes as the paper is dedicating new resources to help train young student journalists in the College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. This spring semester, four CoJMC students will help create content for the OWH as they report on events in and around Lincoln. The program also includes another class dedicated to exposing journalism students to the  process behind the World-Herald’s editorial decision making. This content will appear in print and on the Web.  It’s a commendable effort.

This partnership comes at a critical time when journalists in training may ask if there will be enough jobs to warrant careers in print or broadcast.  The answer to that question is blowing in the wind as traditional journalism revenue models have collapsed in the face of the Internet where users expect to get news and other information for free.

pewHere’s another sobering tidbit:

“The Internet is now the most popular source of news after TV,  according to the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, which  released its year-end roundup of news media consumption last week.

While TV is still king of the hill, its steady decline in the face of  Internet competition bodes ill in the long term.

In 2008, 40% of the respondents said they got most of their national  and international news from the Internet, versus 35% for newspapers in  2008.

The Internet’s share is up from 24% in 2007, while newspapers  also increased slightly, from 34%.

The long-term trend is even  clearer: the Internet’s share has more than tripled from 13% in 2001,  while newspapers fell by almost a quarter–from 45% in those six years.

As with anything else, it costs money to report the news. Hopefully, the Internet will yield a revenue model for news organizations that can replace the traditional ones now in a state of collapse. Perhaps, news consumers on the Internet will be willing to pay for some or all of the content they now expect to get for free.

It hasn’t happened yet. Until it does, the landscape of traditional print and broadcast journalism continues to be punished by dwindling audiences, declining revenues and a very real threat that the ability to comprehensively cover the news is becoming increasingly difficult because the dwindling revenues won’t support the effort.

About Bernard McCoy

My views are my own and not a reflection of my employer. I'm a professor of Journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. I've also been a working journalist for the past 29 years. I have covered news stories in war zones, reported on human and natural disasters, presidential conventions, a presidential inauguration and the September 11th, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center in New York City. My career experiences include work as an award-winning documentary producer, television news reporter, photographer, producer, and anchor. I worked at WIBW-TV, Topeka, KS., KCTV, Kansas City, MO, WKBD-TV, Detroit, MI., WILX-TV, Lansing, MI. and WBNS-TV, Columbus, OH. I have also worked as a contributing reporter for The Columbus Dispatch, Associated Press, CBS, CNN, the Ohio News Network and lecture at the Kosovo Institute of Journalism and Communications. I have a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and a master’s degree in telecommunications management from Michigan State University.
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