Media outlets not immune to economy

Published 2:44 am Thursday, May 7, 2009

By By Lowell McGill
You have been reading about all the bailouts going on these days, including, auto manufacturing firms, banks and stock market firms, but no industry is taking a beating like the media.
Daily newspapers are closing by the dozens. The “International Herald Tribune” reported last month the closing of several papers. They include “The Seattle Post-Intelligence,” “The Rocky Mountain News” and “The Tucson Citizen.”
There are news reports The Hearst Corporation is threatening to close “The San Francisco Chronicle,” a paper reported to be losing millions of dollars. Top papers like “The Minneapolis Star Tribune” and “The Philadelphia Inquirer” belong to companies that have gone into bankruptcy over the last four months. The Sun Times Media Group, owner of the “Chicago Sun Times” and dozens of other publication says it has filed for bankruptcy according to recent news report. Countless other papers are up for sale with no potential buyers in sight. Even the “New York Times” is reportedly having financial problems.
Not only newspapers, but television stations and networks are feeling the pinch. NBC appears to be under the most pressure of the “Big Three” networks as reported last week. This network is looking for tenants to share their longtime Washington D.C. building in an effort to help defray the cost of the upkeep of the building. Another factor draining NBC is their MSNBC affiliate, which ranks near the very bottom of cable news networks. They are constantly “looking up” at Fox News, their conservative counterpart. Fox leads all cable news outlets with most viewers.
Another industry taking it on the chin is the cable and satellite industry. IPTV, now rapidly ascending, is throwing a big time scare to these firms.
What is IPTV? Well, it is simply television over the Internet. Thousands are dropping their normal cable and satellite service and installing IPTV. Already a flourishing network called Sky Angel is gathering subscribers each day. A fast broadband Internet connection and a good TV is basically all that is needed. No dish is required. Several Web site like HULU and TVPC are now offering almost the same shows seen on TV. You can check out these Web sites to get the full story of this growing industry.
Not only are daily papers and big networks having financial problems, but regional media firms are suffering too. Only last month “The Pensacola News Journal” discontinued printing their papers at the local plant. The paper will now be printed by “The Press Register” in Mobile. General operations will still remain in the main NJ office, however.
WKRG TV in Mobile had a major layoff, including several on-air personalities. They apparently only use one full time sports reporter now, and when he is not there the news anchor will broadcast the sports news. Their chief news anchor is also heard on practically all voiceovers. I have recently noticed that Jerry Hough, longtime WKRG favorite, has become a columnist for “The Press Register.” Debbie William, whom I knew when she worked for a Montgomery television station, was another on-air personality who lost her job.
In radio, Clear Channel announced last week it will cut 590 jobs. Clear Channel is recognized as the largest owner of U.S. radio stations. Our local station operated with highest efficiency by Lou Vickery, appears on solid ground, however.
Why is all this happening? Well, the lack of advertising revenue, cost of operation and in some cases union demands.
Even weekly papers and small upstart Internet Web sites experience the same problems as the major firms. The sad part of this is the apparent realization that it is going to get worse.
When I spoke of Web sites I am reminded of a former Cajun adjuster friend of mine. A native of south Louisiana, he retired a few years ago in Mississippi. Needing something to occupy his time and also offer him a financial retirement supplement, he established a Web site depicting his upbringing in the bayous of south Louisiana. His site was very unique because it featured Cajun jokes combined with English and French Cajun music. An avid conservative he poked jokes at liberal politics. He got a great deal of satisfaction jesting south Louisiana liberal advocate James Carville. His Web site apparently was very popular. He tells me the Web site received thousands of “hits” each week
My weekly columns somewhat parallel his Web site. It is a nice, enjoyable supplement to my “semi-” retirement and I do not totally depend on my writing for a living. You noticed I said semi-retired. If you had been with me for the past four weeks following the flooding in Mobile and south Mississippi you would think I was back working full time again.
But, my friend realizes he would starve to death if he had to rely on the Web site advertising revenue alone. He said “ there is no way I could make a living doing this full time.” However, he adds “I did not rely on my Web site for a living because my main source of income was from my retirement.” Well, unfortunately many small time operators do not have another income source and thus, fall by the way side. But, my friend, because of ill health, had to discontinue his Web site. He said it did real well as a part-time operation. “My small core of advertisers stayed with me until I ceased operations,” he said.
Established daily and weekly newspapers are normally successful with sufficient sustaining advertisers and low operational cost. However, further down the road, some of these firms could experience downfall if the economy descends.
I received some nice emails this week including two from former Chemstrand workers who thanked me for using a Chemstrand theme last week. There was one cranky phone call, however. Some guy, who had no kind words told me he had no use for my column. He said he never read it, but he seemed to know many of my past column themes. How do you suppose he knew so much about my writings if he didn’t read them? Must have been a little bird talking to him. I asked him if he ever went fishing. He replied, “yes I do fish.” Then I told him to tear off the page my column was written on and use it to wrap some of those fish you enjoy catching. Then, you can call me back and tell me you finally found a real good use for my writings.
I didn’t lose any sleep over the call. Now, if I should get more calls like this, perhaps, I may, indeed, have a problem. But as long as most of my readers are satisfied I’ll just keep on ‘trucking out” these columns as long as the good Lord blesses me with good health.
I am sorry no local news was used this week, but I’ll have more stories from the year 1973 next week.
Lowell McGill is a historical columnist for The Atmore Advance. He can be reached at

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