Monday, March 09, 2009

Fish and Chip Paper

You better speak up now if you want your piece

You better speak up now

It won't mean a thing later

Yesterday's news is tomorrow's fish and chip paper

-- Elvis Costello

I'm not sure where we're going to get our fish and chip paper in the future. Time Magazine has come out with a list of the "10 Major Newspapers That Will Either Fold or Go Digital Next" and look who's number 2 on the list:

2. The Minneapolis Star Tribune has filed for Chapter 11. The paper may not make money this year, even without the costs of debt coverage. The company said it made $26 million last year, about half of what it made in 2007. The odds are that the Star Tribune will lose money this year if its ad revenue drops another 20%. There is no point for creditors to keep the paper open if it cannot generate cash. It could become an all-digital property, as supporting a daily circulation of more than 300,000 is too much of a burden. It could survive if its rival, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, folds. A grim race.

I've written about this subject before and it's not necessary to rehearse the grim details, but it is jarring to see that a paper that has over 300,000 subscribers might simply disappear. Depending on which numbers you look at, the Star Tribune is one of the top 20 newspapers in the country in circulation. But it's a very sick paper indeed and Time is likely correct that if the paper doesn't make money, it will disappear sooner than later.

It's possible that the future for the Star Tribune will be online, but I'm not certain how that revenue model will work. The Wall Street Journal has been able to charge for online content because it provides valuable information that is awfully difficult to find elsewhere. I don't suspect that an online Star Tribune would be able to do that, so it would have to depend on advertising revenue. The Christian Science Monitor has now gone to an all-digital format and seems to be hanging in there, but it has institutional support that the Star Tribune ultimately lacks. It would be competing against some of the local online publications, which are fairly dicey. I don't doubt that a sufficiently funded Star Tribune would have little trouble brushing aside something like the MinnPost, but it's difficult to see how it could continue long-term without a patron.

As for the Pioneer Press, it's difficult to see how it would benefit from its larger rival's demise. The Pi Press has long been a place that produced excellent journalism, but only sporadically. It has never been able to gain much of a toehold on the other side of the Mississippi and I can't envision the current ownership being willing to invest the money and effort needed to make it anything more than it is now.

So what will the future of journalism in the Twin Cities look like if the Star Tribune folds? I have a few ideas and I'll be sharing them with you in the coming days.


Night Writer said...

I visit both the Strib and Pioneer Press several times each day online. The Strib's site is definitely much better in terms of look and ease of use, while the St. Paul "paper" features slow loading times, a clunking transfer to protected sites and very frustrating "back button" process if you open the comments on a story. The big plus for the Pioneer Press is that just about every article has a comment section, while the Strib is stingy about allowing comments, especially if the story is sensitive or politically incorrect. The comments on the PP are often pretty raw and reactionary and expose most commenters as idiots, but you do get some thoughtful posts and people ready and willing to challenge the conventional dogma.

Gino said...

i dont think fish and chips are still served in newspapers.

in the age of bottled water, i cant see being able to keep customers that way.

my name is Amanda said...

At fish & chips stands in London, the F&Cs are still served in newspaper! But I don't think The Daily Telegraph is in danger.

I will sad if the Strib goes under, and the Pioneer Press is positively RANCID. Hate that rag.

Mark Heuring said...


I'd agree with your assessments of the two locals regarding usability. I've pretty much given up on the PP website for that reason. Having said that, the comments section feature is part of what I'll be talking about later on.