Friday, November 21, 2008

TBM Returns – for Now

Over my bowl of steaming oatmeal, dotted with plump Sun-Maid raisins, splashed with Coffee-mate and sprinkled with Splenda, these additives:

It’s a barrel-full of bad karma for media folk. AP reportedly plans to cut 10 percent of its workforce, about 400. Lay-offs are in the forecast for The Weather Channel. And, closer to home, Tampa Tribune columnist Daniel Ruth was just the latest causality in a long list of Bay area journalists who have lost their jobs. (In an attempt to remain transparent, my position as News Editor was recently eliminated at a local weekly paper, but that’s a story for another day.)

Why the bloodbath? Simple economics: The housing downturn was a loud warning bell for an industry already in trouble. Flocks of full-page real estate ads are long gone, drying a vital financial stream that provided much-needed capital. Reverberations in the auto industry cut off another key advertising lifeline. Competition from the Internet—often a self-inflicted wound—provided content for readers, but without a healthy enough ad stack to compensate for what was lost in the print side of the business.

Politics offered a cruel twist as well: That intermittent gusher of ads that crops up every two years—and explodes in presidential campaigns—shuts down quickly after election day and leaves a dry river bed of reality. The party’s over . . .

But there is something akin to good news: This massive media shakeup could (ultimately) create opportunities, if somebody either gets smart or lucky. (By this I do not mean reporters or editors, but those on the publishing side who can devise business models that sync up with the needs of the communities—large and small—for which they serve.)

On the other hand, if they do not adapt, they will die.

Is there a precedent for hope? Yes. AM radio was dead when FM took over. (Old-timers will recall that, way back when, FM appeared stillborn. AM licensees were forced to take up FM stations as a part of a package to jump-start this weak sibling. But, when FM finally took off, it left AM twisting slowly in its wake.) What revived AM? Talk radio. That genre became a cash cow for AM’ers.

Can newspapers find a formula that will permit them to rise Phoenix-like from the ashes?

One hopes.

Personally, I’m keeping an eye on that free and flashy tab from the St. Pete Times, tbt* . . .
Do I like little t? Not particularly, but if it succeeds, it could provide enough profit to help keep the Times stable. And Mother Trib? I don’t know. Their recent re-design was disastrous. I’m told that the phone system at the paper couldn’t handle the volume of calls from irate readers and that thousands of people canceled their subscriptions. (I would have canceled mine, but I enjoyed coverage of the Rays World Series run and look forward to the Bucs having home field advantage in the Super Bowl.)

I’m less informed about rumblings from within the radio/TV empires in the Bay area—but would love to hear from anyone with insight.

PS-1: Faithful readers from days gone by will notice TBM has not posted for the past three years. Why? Life intervened. But with my most recent run at a journalism career ended—cut short by the economic reaper about which I have just discussed—it seemed appropriate to return, for a time.

PS-2: It’s good to see that Walt Belcher and Eric Deggans are still pluggin’ away. They are two of my favorites. And, of course, Steve Otto.

Whatever happened to John Coffeen?


Blogger Eric Deggans said...

Welcome back, dude! Can never have too many people commenting about media -- or complimenting me online!

Tuesday, December 02, 2008 11:22:00 AM  

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