Can you spot the mistake in this cartoon?


That’s right! It has the woman waiting outside a restroom for the man! Such manipulation of reality is called “artistic license.” Just kidding! I mean, it is called “artistic license.” I was kidding about the other thing… oh, never mind.

Back to newspapers. Somebody who calls himself “Redman in the Big O” has observed that the daily newspaper in his hometown is doing reasonably well, all things considered. The good news is, I think this generally is true in medium-to-small markets, and there are a lot of those. Probably few daily newspapers are doing as well as they’d like, but it seems to be the big metro papers that are staggering.

I’ve spent my adult life working in or with newspapers. All that time I personally have been a harsh critic of the trends within the industry that we all perceive as downward. Most of my compatriots have been as well. I would not downplay general decline in product and service as a reason for newspaper woes today, but there’s something else at play that I think is not mentioned enough.

Corporate forces and the managers that those forces tend to employ have been salivating to take newspapers to the Web since AOL was the hottest game in town. It is a version of their familiar reasoning, “If it costs X dollars to deliver our product to a million people, think how much we’ll save if we deliver it to only half a million!” In other words, cost cutting as standard operating procedure to pad the quarterly bottom line. However, they’ve been faced with the unfortunate fact that no one has figured out how to make the Web pay in amounts approaching what newspapers, even in their distress, are accustomed to making. Now, though, an economic downturn is said to be “forcing” newspapers to make the leap into the unknowable but incredibly cheap world of Web publishing. This, instead of doing a lot of things that could be done to fix real problems.

This isn’t to say there aren’t legitimate technical and economic pressures on traditional publishing. I do think, however, there are a lot of crocodile tears being shed by corporate newspaper owners who might have done a lot more to forestall this crisis. Anyway, that’s my opinion.