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Will printed newspapers become relics?


Another friend at The Sarasota-Herald Tribune was laid off last week. She received the bad news by a phone message telling her that after 18 years editing the paper, her job was cut.

Forty-seven other Herald-Tribune employees were laid off, including 31 SNN News 6 staffers. And to make the news even gloomier, the Herald-Tribune also will end home delivery in Port Charlotte and Punta Gorda in March. With declining advertising revenue, the Herald-Tribune has let go 40 percent of its staff, from its hay days at the height of the area's real estate boom.

When will this wake end? The dread of further cuts, even ceasing publication has cast a pall over its remaining 350 employees, much like passengers on the Titanic. The survivors are severely depressed, expecting soon they will be let go. Will home delivery of newspapers go the way of the iceman?

The gloom in the nation's newsrooms has never been bleaker. The very existence of printed newspapers is threatened. Some people predict newspapers, as we know it will either shut down, or evolve into online blogs and newspapers. The rising cost of paper and distribution comes at a time when advertising revenue is plummeting because of hard financial times, as well as free Internet news.

For the first time ever, last year more people got their news from online sources, rather than paying for it in print edition newspapers.

So dire is the newspaper industry that an internet site called, "Newspaper Death Watch" chronicles the desperate condition of the profession. Written by laid-off newspaper writers, they reported over 1,400 newspaper employees were laid off in January 2009.

The Bradenton Herald's parent company, McClatchy Company reported a  $21,7 million lost for the fourth quarter, threatening even more job cuts. McClatchy also said that $100 million in deep cuts can be expected, an ominous fate for many newspaper workers at the Bradenton Herald, Miami Herald, The Sacramental Bee and other newspapers they own. Advertising, the lifeblood of any paper, fell 21 percent for McClatchy. Last year McClatchy had two rounds of job cuts of ten percent.

What is the fate of newspapers? Perhaps the best-known paper in the world is the New York Times, and since 1896 has reported on recessions, assassinations and wars. Now a crisis puts the very existence of the Times in doubt. Rumors recently circulated it would cease publication this May. Scandals of plagiarism, timid reporting on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and now the recession has gutted the Times' financial status, its fourth-quarter earnings plunged 48%.

With more and more readers getting their news on the Internet, the need for home delivery of printed newspapers is a relic on life-support systems. Your mornings savoring the tactile pleasure of your paper are numbered.

Already Amazon has an ebook reader - the Kindle, which allows you to download newspapers, magazines, books, files and documents on a book-size tablet. So instead of waiting for your paper to be tossed at your door, all you will need to do is to have it electronically transferred to your Kindle. Some people are calling the Kindle the Ipod of books. And as iPod is expected to evolve into having your iPod woven into the fabric of your garment, such as shirt or jacket, so will Kindle become even more user-friendly.

Since the early days of American history newspapers were called "paper bullets" because of their force to whip up controversy. Studs Terkel, the late, eminent oral historian said the role of newspapers is to ask the impertinent question. But as newspapers lose money they also lose their mission of challenging political figures, investigating corruption; and have instead become mere fluff sheets of happy news. Some papers even proudly exhibit their endorsements by city governments. So instead of being a watchdog, they have become a lap dog.


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