May 4, 2009

Comics, newspapers bite the hand that feeds 'em...

Ah, the many problems of running a newspaper: Circulation dropping, staff cuts, pages shrinking; then 24-hour cable winning the immediacy battle every damn day. Now even cable loses as the internet takes ownership of the new in news. What's left to tell or sell when even legislators tweet their every thought during budget hearings?

Today, a different problem for the dead tree media, illustrated by the excerpt from Sunday's Pearls before swine comic strip, above: Newspaper editors buy a harmless, although really dumb! syndicated comic strip about zeebas (sic), rats and pigs, and then open their own Sunday paper and find it mocking the newspaper itself! (Portraying newspaper magnates as rats is fairly close to the truth, however.) Talk about biting the hand that feeds you. The full strip is here.

Censoring the strip would only have made bigger news. Damned if you do; damned if you don't.

Dare I say the unthinkable, based not so much on this comic strip but on a lifetime of reading them: The comics stopped being funny ages ago. It was 1945, for Heaven's sake, when New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia read the comics over the radio during a newspaper strike. (Radio?) Remember when Dad used to sit at the family breakfast table on Sunday morning reading the "funnies" to the kids, starting them on a lifelong newspaper-reading habit? Not any more. (Family breakfast table?)

What to do? Simple. Drop the comics. Then take another step: Eliminate "features" like the patently bogus horoscope that demeans the accuracy of any newspaper that carries it. Drop Sudoku, word games, bridge, poker and videogame columns, and Crossword puzzles and all the other filler -- Dr. Gott's psycho-viral disease-of-the-day? the current Ann Landers sibling wannabe? -- that take up a larger and larger percentage of the space not sold (damn!) to advertisers. Surely, nobody buys a newspaper for this stuff. And who has time for it, anyway?

I haven't measured the newshole in the papers I still read, but it's obviously shrinking. Early in this current newspaper decline, the Chicago Tribune very publicly cut its newshole to no more than 50 percent of total space. (Buy an ad; make room for another story!) Others do it by stealth. Meanwhile, all those "features" continue to hang on. Unlike the daily stock tables, which finally disappeared years after their utility had passed, the daily TV grid has doubled in size despite its content being handier on the tube itself. Meanwhile, the space for "real" news is shrinking; even the Wall Street Journal -- the only gainer in the most recent ABC circulation reports -- is roiled by a dictum to shorten stories.

Of course, I could be totally missing the point here. Perhaps those features are meant to fill that remaining space, now that local news staffs have been cut, and cut again at newspaper after newspaper. And in some ways they are comfort food as the world goes to Hell: Nothing about your miserable existence in this Word Game here! Never mind the fact that their elimination would free up money and newshole that could be devoted to ...oh, I don't know, another reporter, more details? Daily coverage of schools or state government or our reps in Washington.

Meanwhile, newspapers across the country have discovered another way to bandage their bleeding balance sheets, taking a page from those droll satellite TV commercials (Watch 'em all; they're really funny.). You know the one I mean: The cable TV boss says, "DIRECTV is doing very well in customer satisfaction. What do we do?" and an executive responds, "We can't improve our service, but we can improve the price. We can make it higher!"

Newspapers don't get the joke. The New York Times is about to raise the price of its daily paper to $2; its Sunday edition, already at $5, will soon climb to $6, nearly the price of a cheap paperback novel but without nearly as much suspense, or romance. (The Times costs more than that for home delivery here, and no comics!) The weekday-only Wall Street Journal is $2; the Financial Times is $2.50. Just last week, some major newspapers reported circulation declines of 20% last year... is this really the time for price hikes?

The already-endangered Boston Globe, which went from 50 cents to 75 cents last year, was due to raise its daily price again, to a buck. But now it appears that price increase may not take place -- for the worst of reasons: the Globe's owner, the New York Times, said Sunday night it is notifying federal authorities of its plans to close down the Globe -- because negotiations with the Globe's unions didn't produce the $20 million in savings the Times wanted (to help reduce some $85 million a year in losses).

No Globe in Boston? The mind boggles. It would be like tearing the Liberty Bell from Philadelphia, the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, Babe Ruth from the Red Sox ... oh, yes, let's not forget the Curse of the Bambino. But this time, the Curse of the Globe would be visited on New York.

And on newspaper readers everywhere.


  1. Try giveing the public what they want and the newspaers might get back on their feet. Again I wold have no worries Obama will not let his bigest fans don all they have to do is be sure to carry without looking into the facts his message.
    Oh and when Obama starts suiting down voices that do not agree with his Marxist ideas keep their moth suit.

  2. Thanks Colt, I had no idea that newspapers are supposed to give "the public what they want". I thought they were supposed to give the public the news. And I am a bit confused by your final sentence: "Oh and when Obama starts suiting down voices that do not agree with his Marxist ideas keep their moth suit." How are voices "suited down"? And I'm totally lost on what a "moth suit" is.

  3. Try doing better then my poor spelling anyone can do that.
    The newspapers should give the news unlike say The J-T the New York Times. Perhaps if say the J-T gave Racine the news and not that PAP The DRC and J -Wax wants us to read they would be better off.

  4. The newspaper is an advertising tool too. My Sunday paper is more than half loaded with adds. Why should I pay $6.00 or even $2.00 for that?

  5. I found it amusing that the very first comic on the brand-newly downsized Sunday comic page was about downsizing newspapers.

    BTW, now that the newspaper is the width of a tabloid but taller, what do you call it? It can no longer be considered a broadsheet... How 'bout a tallbloid?

  6. Sorry Colt, but I can't resist pointing out the the word should be "than" rather than "then". Your lack of punctuation is also woefully evident. Where did you graduate school?

    Just wonderin' - do you consider Fox News to be a legitimate news source? Do you truly believe it is "fair and balanced". Another point, it seems to me that newspapers have a long history of printing editorial comments as well as letters to the editor. You always have the choice to neither read, nor subscribe to any information sources which annoy you. I agree that the JT leaves a lot to be desired and no doubt the RP is biased . . . But you are permitted the opportunity to voice your opinion. You haven't hesitated to interject your name- calling attacks against Obama without censure. What more is it you seek from your local paper?

  7. Rees Roberts5/04/2009 2:30 PM

    Colt needs to proof read his content before hitting the "publish your comment" button. Many errors in just that one comment.

    But my main comment is to Pete. Thank you for that article. We are all starting to feel the pain of our country being stretched by all the changes we are seeing. I have no crystal ball but it sure is becoming more depressing, isn't it?

    We have little consensus on what is right and wrong these days, we do not appear to accept the results of elections very well, our pocketbooks are making it difficult for the family to exist and our very fabric of our souls are being tested.

    If I were a betting man I could foresee a perfect storm of issues which will require us to band together (finally) or perish. Yes, I see it in those terms. But history seems to be on our side that when the chips are truly down we somehow get our collective guts together and show the world how to do it. I hope I am right.

    I see the demise of the newspaper industry actually as an evolving circumstance. There are thousands of newspaper web sites all providing, for free, what they charge for in print using paper. But they simply don't get it. People will always gravitate to the same information if they can get it free versus a different way of paying for it. That is why, in my opinion, newspapers are going down hill. Who, in the right mind will continue to pay for something when they can get the exact same content for free elsewhere? DUH

    I have always maintained what should happen is one of two possible directions:

    1) Use the Internet merely to "tease" what you will find in the print version. Keeping the "gold" with the print version.


    2) Start charging for content on the Internet. This has, so far, proven not to work very well.

    Which leads you back to #1. Unfortunately, I feel the newspaper industry is merely the canary in the mine shaft and it could possibly be the fore teller of more bad news.

    So, what do we do about it? I still maintain that we look positively into the future. Learn from our collective mistakes and make the changes necessary to improve ourselves from the bottom up. In many ways we did this to ourselves by shipping jobs outside our borders and by not demanding more of our legislators. Our lack of political involvement in the past, by not voting (etc), may come back to haunt us now. Time will certainly tell.

    We certainly will need to work better together to arrive at multiple areas of consensus. To continue down the road we have been, I believe we can start to agree, isn't working very well for us.

    Good luck to us all.

  8. I know lets have a .05% sales tax to fund the papers in this area its only a few $$ a month and we could print the KRM route in then too!
    Of course I like fox but I am sure Obama will shut it down for hate speech after all he has so much to fix that Bush did he should be allowed to do anything he wants after all it is Obama. Who care that his wife spends more on a pair of shows then most folk make in a week.

    Newspapers did this to themselves by the way. You can see it here with the J-T no real reporting on RUSD or BID #1 and how that money is spent.

    From time to time I go at the Post too but its a far better newspaper Dustin let us know about Point Blue the Post let us know about the REA backing of Turner. I hopev they go at Bid #1 on the other hand I do not like the attacks on Voss and the Rino Ryan but I can live with that.
    Oh and Madison West

  9. Colt, not only do you fill your posts with misspellings, grammatical and punctuation errors, you talk out of your butt cheeks. Initially I thought you were just someone who sees the world differently than I. But given your last comments, it appears that you also gain your world view by peeking through through the crack in your butt. Obama will shut down Fox News? Is that a serious comment? I mean, you're not making a (very poor and unintelligent) joke? You may be in need of some serious therapy, my man.

  10. Why doesn't Racine do what Kenosha does in some format. They charge to read the rest of the news, rummage sales, estate sales online. People will pay because rummagers and antiquers will get up quite early and download their "route" of travel for treasure hunting. Alot of other cities also charge to "read" the complete newspaper.

  11. Glenda - Colt isn't too far off, haven't you heard of the "Fairness" Doctrine? It's a pet of Pelosi's, and if it passes, there's your slippery slope leading right to Fox.

  12. Puhleeze - there are enough frightening problems to be concerned with without having you stoop to the continued use fear tactics that worked so well under Bush/Cheney. Obama isn't interested in taking away any of our liberties, only in restoring those that we were stripped of over the past eight years. Can we at least try to unite as a nation behind a newly ELECTED president - with a HUGE approval rating? Even I held off from bashing Bush until it became clear that he had gotten us into an unnecessary war and had thrown decency out the window along with our Constitution. Even I remained silent of criticism until I was SURE we had elected a dangerous person. You have no facts on which to base your claims; only Limbaugh, Hannity, O'Reilly and Beck rantings. I promise that I will join you in protest just as soon as you can offer ACTUAL evidence (aka facts) that Obama, Pelosi, or Reid has stepped forward to silence Fox. We are a democracy with a duly elected president and the unAmerican/devisive actions of the right-wing neo-cons have driven away the GOP base that was so solid several years ago. Don't you guys ever learn? Your hateful bashing of Obama and the Dems is shameful.

  13. Read more carefully, Glenda. I didn't say anyone "has stepped forward to silence Fox". I said that the "Fairness" Doctrine, favored by Pelosi, is a slippery slope leading to Fox.

    And, Obama doesn't have a "HUGE" approval rating. You're skewing.
    From the Associated Press: 64% of Americans approve of Obama's job performance and 48% believe that the country is going in the right direction.
    That's hardly HUGE. I'm willing to give him a chance. I think he's sincere in his concern for people, and highly intelligent. But, I oppose HUGE spending. I try to see all sides.
    I'll wait and see what happens with Pelosi's Unfairness Doctine.

  14. Glenda, Did you offer President Bush the same support? Then did you like the sheep of America decide he was stupid, when the rest of the country did? As for Fox News..They are the nearest thing to Fair and Balanced, you will find on TV..Anywhere. BBC, MsNBC, CNN and all of the networks, repeat the New York Times bullet point's du jour.

    Fox has grown at a tremendous rate while the others news coverage have suffered. If they were smart they would compete by imitation. The only major US newspaper to Grow recently is the Wall Street Journal.. (Owned by Murdoch as well).
    I get my news from lots of sources, R, L, and Center. I also engage in discussions of the news, rather than just let some Tele-prompter reader spout whatever somebody wrote. This is why I didn't over react to Swine Flu, Global warming, or even asbestos or Allar alarm from a few years ago. I learned way back in the 80's when AIDs, and homelessness were exaggerated ad nauseum, by all of these media Hypesters. I tried to resist the "Worlds on Fire" scenario that Obama was throwing at us in February. When we had to immediately pass this Trillion Dollar bail-out/ Stimulus immediately! Then he waited 5 days so he could take his wife to dinner in Chicago on Valentines Day..then flew to Denver so he could sign this "important" legislation in the mountains, and the Emergency, Shovel Ready projects all over the country, have yet to begin, (except a little road project in DC). We are coming out of this Recession, not due to Obama's Rescue, but because most recessions last about 15 months. Had Pres Obama and Bush in December agreed to allow GMC and Chrysler to BanKruptcy and restructure, we'd all be better off today. But the Govt. got involved and created the Katrina equivalent for the US Auto industry.
    Now the UAW owns more of Chrysler than the Bond holders!! That Glenda is socializing. GM's President was fired by the President of the US!! That's socialism too! Refusing to accept money from banks that want out of the Bail-out, so u can control the bankers from the White House is akin to a Dictatorship.

  15. It sounds like English, but I can't understand a damn word you're saying.

    Somewhere within your message the reality plug must have been pulled from the socket.

  16. Again, Glenda, read more carefully, it'll increase your comprehension.
    UP makes some salient points: Fox has HUGE ratings, people are listening and waiting; Chrysler should have restructured through chapter 13, instead of being bailed out and strong-armed by our President; the recession recovery will, and is, occurring in spite of our President not because of him.
    It takes experience and common sense to run a country. I'm concerned our President is showing he is lacking in both.
    Still willing to give him more chances...right up until he nationalizes the banking and auto industries. Oh wait, he's already begun to do that.
    Third chance?

  17. Intelligent response, Glenda. Speaks volumes about your philosophy. Clearly no intelligent debate to be had here, given your inability to play. Typical of a far-left liberal? Hmmm, hope not.

  18. Perhaps my silence is an indication that there is no intelligent debate here. Just more of each side stating our already overstated differences. I have my philosophy and you have yours. You have indicated that yours lies firmly with Limbaugh and Fox News. I prefer a kinder, gentler direction. I find hate-filled spewing most distasteful.

  19. Limbaugh! I've never even listened to him. Don't jump to conclusions, Glenda.

    As for "hate-filled spewing", how does this sound "you talk out of your butt cheeks. Initially I thought you were just someone who sees the world differently than I. But given your last comments, it appears that you also gain your world view by peeking through through the crack in your butt."
    YOUR distasteful, hateful words.
    How is that kindler and gentler?

    I have made reasonable points, and have raised good questions.
    Your use of finger-pointing as a substitue for a reasoned argument marks you as a hypocrite, and therefore not worthy of debate.

  20. Anon, first of all, please allow me to apologize for my sardonic retorts. I will admit I have a rather sarcastic sense of humor and should know better than to use it on someone with whom I am not personally acquainted. I honestly do prefer being kinder and gentler and offer a sincere apology for my acerbic "butt" remarks. I truly would prefer more civil exchanges. However, I'm not sure that this is the best venue on which to pursue a debate. Nor do I think this will resolve our differences. Let it end with my apology for making less than "gentle" remarks. I see now how that puts me in the same category as Limbaugh, Hannity, O'Reilly, Beck et al. I certainly don't want to put forth the unpleasant style employed by them as they feed into the spirit of diviseness that surrounds us.

  21. Glenda, thanks for the nice apology, accepted.
    Glad I came back for another look; this is the first time I’ve engaged in a discussion on these blogs, and it’s annoyingly addictive!

    I was hoping to find people who wanted to discuss our present-day issues. Real people, that is, not entertainers disguised as political pundits. I make a point of not paying attention to people like Hannity, Huffington, Limbaugh, and Moore because the quotes I hear on the news are polarizing and non-constructive. They offer no common-sense solutions.

    I’m liberal on most social issues and conservative on spending/big, intrusive government. As a result, I don’t fit with either party. I’m a realist and a capitalist. I worry when our government begins taking over things. Things like our industry and financial future. It’s irrelevant to me whether the person who has the power to do that is a democrat or a republican. I object either way.

    But, you’re right, this isn’t the best forum for a political debate/discussion, it’s too prone to hyperbole. Besides, it’s Spring, and I’ve got some dang long grass out there! Nice talking to you.