Gulfshore Business: The Future of the Newspaper – Declining revenues, tough decisions
There was a mouse in The News-Press newsroom.
A literal rodent. Former staffers said there was more than one; there was an infestation that year. But this particular mouse, they named: Furlough. This was between 2009 and 2012, former staff writer Glenn Miller remembered. During that time, there were two or three rounds of furloughs—mandatory unpaid weeks off.
“Before everything changed, the paper was bursting at the seams,” Glenn Miller wrote in an email. There was a railroad spur behind the News-Press building, where huge rolls of newsprint were delivered. Miller used to joke that when the railroad cars left, they were packed with cash.
In 2006, advertising revenue, a newspaper’s lifeblood, declined sharply and didn’t recover. Nationally, Gannett, which owns The News-Press and Naples Daily News, has lost billions in print advertising since then.
Today, in many towns, the daily newspaper—and the term “newspaper” includes both a physical paper and its online product—is gone. More than 2,000 U.S. newspapers have closed in the past 15 years. Between 2008 and 2019, the number of newsroom jobs at U.S. newspapers dropped in half. In Southwest Florida, the drop in jobs has been much worse. There were about 200 journalists, editors and managers at The News-Press and Naples Daily News. Today, there are about 50.
“I wish I could say I saw a lot of flashes of what was happening,” writer Amy Bennett Williams says about the period before the attrition. “We’d pick up hints. But unless you were a business reporter or someone on the business side (management), you were just a reporter with her head down, trying to do her work.”
At face value, it’s hard to understand why these two papers have been so hard hit. The News-Press and Naples Daily News are considered to be among the most profitable in the Gannett chain, according to Rick Edmonds, a media business analyst for the Poynter Institute.
“They are good markets,” Edmonds says. “Well off, growing, with a lot of retirees who make good target readers.”
But Gannett traditionally manages from the top down, he said. “Targets— of profits and other initiatives—sweep those papers in with the rest of the chain.” Gannett would not disclose revenues or profits for the individual properties.
Miller accepted a buyout in 2012, having worked at The News-Press for 25 years. He was one of 11 who took a buyout on that round. Those former employees left with, in aggregate, more than 100 years of institutional and community knowledge. Miller’s last day was Friday the 13th.