The print version of New Orleans’ famous Times-Picayune will also shrink to three-day publication. All four papers are owned by the Newhouses, a wealthy New York family.
They surely must love newspapers, they own more than 30 of them.
We love them, too; there are two dailies and five weeklies in our family group. The Star, of course, is the flagship of the group. And since you asked, yes, The Star is doing OK financially, not great but we’re making a profit.
In quality, we are great, world class. A study by Columbia University ranked us among the nation’s 30 best, one of only two with circulations of less than 100,000.
What is going on with the Newhouse chain and with us is figuring out how to use the new technology of the Internet to create quality information media and make a healthy profit.
A team of younger executives here began coming up with bold ideas about eliminating weaknesses and positioning the company to sustain high quality in a new environment before the Newhouse shocks.
Their ideas are bold but not as dramatic as the Newhouse cutbacks, as you’ll see in the coming weeks and years.
Stripped down to basics, the Internet is just another printing press. Whether it prints the news on paper, a computer screen or smartphone, the press is incidental compared to the quality of the information delivered.
We are developing a new business model. It is likely that one day, probably not in my lifetime, The Star may be completely digital. Just eliminating expensive newsprint will make it less costly to produce.
With the necessity of buying a million dollar-plus press removed, does that mean anybody can start a digital newspaper? Sure, but will enough people buy it to keep it in business?
Facebook is an example of creating a new communications medium only on the Internet. It demonstrated a basic human need, to be in touch with someone else, if only about the tomato plant or a pet’s misadventures.
I’d guess its stock isn’t the hottest buy on the board because, though the market for minutiae is real, you can sell only so much trivia before boring readers.
A 24-hour digital newspaper changing as the news changes is more serious and important than exchanging gossip. It requires a staff of educated, trained, experienced journalists drilled in accuracy and ethics.
The mission of a daily newspaper in a city such as ours has been important in big and little ways, is now and would be in the future. Which means it costs a lot for us to produce and for you to buy — even if only digital.
The role of public citizen is unique, a task in a democracy only media can perform. Consider these local, historic examples:
During the critical years of the civil rights crisis in the mid-’60s, the accurate, believable reporting and calm progressive voice of the paper helped the community make the transition from one civilization to another.
When it was proposed to incinerate tons of deadly nerve agents stored at Anniston Army Depot, we waited until civilian scientists spoke before endorsing that method, traveled at great expense to a Pacific atoll to see a demonstration, visited other incineration sites, calmly reporting our findings, and opened our pages to comment, much of it critical of our position.
We met criticism and some hysteria with calm, factual reporting and a reasoned editorial voice. The tocsins are gone now, went up in smoke.
When the Anniston City Council’s so-called inquiry became a pit of score-settling and back-biting that locked down city governance, it was a rare, Sunday front-page editorial that triggered activity among local citizens who promise a more productive council in this year’s elections.
In a lecture two years ago, I put the value of newspapers — print or digital — this way:
“As long as there are mothers to cry at their daughters’ weddings, as long as there are fathers to swell with pride at their sons’ exploits on the football field, as long as people fear crime, are suspicious of local politicians, cheer for the economic boost of a new industry, want to know what’s for sale at the mall or mourn the death of beloved citizens, as long as people want to share with others, there will be a need for someone to connect them.”
So, yes, we are changing, but in the most important ways we are the same. Unless Congress repeals human nature, newspapers in some form will be around and citizens will want to buy them.
H. Brandt Ayers is the publisher of The Star and chairman of Consolidated Publishing Co.