Thursday, November 19, 2009

Calling all oracles

I'd like to find someone to intone, as Gerald Ford did, that our long national nightmare -- of newspapers closing and journalists losing their jobs -- is over.

Ford's famous line came after he was sworn into office on Aug. 9, 1974, soon after Richard Nixon officially resigned the presidency in disgrace over Watergate.

"I assume the Presidency under extraordinary circumstances never before experienced by Americans," Ford said then. "This is an hour of history that troubles our minds and hurts our hearts."

OK, so maybe the speedy race to the bottom by newspapers -- some 135 shuttered so far this year and more than 14,500 journalists laid off or bought out -- doesn't quite measure up to what Ford faced. But for those of us caught in the downdraft, it is a recurring nightmare:

* Today, the Newspaper Association of America reported that third-quarter advertising revenue at papers was down 28 percent from the year-earlier period, to $6.4 billion. It was the 13th straight quarter of decline, according to the association, which predicted that full-year ad sales likely will be under $30 billion at newspapers for the first time in 20 years.

* Yesterday, in a story titled "A Perpetual Recession for Papers," Rick Edmonds, a former newspaperman who now studies the business side of the media at The Poynter Institute in Florida, suggested that "more staff cuts will be coming to newspapers next year." His line of reasoning? "When you cut a bunch of reporters from your newsroom in June, that continues to show up as a savings in January. But if advertising revenues continue to fall, you will have to cut again.

"My prediction is that in the coming six to nine months, ad revenues will continue to fall and newspapers will be forced to cut yet again," Edmonds told Forbes.

Yes, this is a time in newspaper history that "troubles our minds and hurts our hearts."

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