Nov 10

Jimmy, forget about being the next Woodward or Bernstein. Mommy and daddy are buying you a slide rule for the holidays

November 10 - newspaper-in-trash-can I knew the newspaper business was tanking, but I had no idea how horrific the current landscape was until checking the stats in a recent O'Dwyer's news piece (See "Newspaper Circ Drops Some More," Jack O'Dwyer's Newsletter, November 4, 2009, Vol. 42 No. 43).

Did you know there are 44 million newspapers sold each day? That sounds impressive until one learns it's the lowest level since the 1940s!

Subscriptions at papers like the San Francisco Chronicle, Dallas Morning News and Boston Globe are dropping faster than the post-season hopes of Giants' fans after Sunday's last-minute collapse (the papers reported circulation losses of 25.8, 22.2 and 18.5 percent, respectively).

The Wall Street Journal now has the largest daily circulation at 2 million (it actually increased 0.6 percent). USA Today's circulation plummeted more than 17 percent as it fell to the number two slot. (Note: the same issue of O'Dwyer's carried reports about the Journal's closing its Boston bureau and Forbes laying off 40 more staffers).

I wonder how undergraduate and graduate journalism programs are spinning these dismal results to current and prospective students. I'm proud to say I was a journalism major at Northeastern University and learned many skills that have since stood me in good stead. But, I wouldn't advise any young person to pursue a career in a dying profession.

Pundits disagree about the future of journalism, newspapers and magazines. I'm sure some form of neo-journalism will emerge in another decade or so. But, for the immediate future, I'd counsel any serious writer to run away from Columbia, Missouri, and the other great J-schools. The cost-benefit ratio no longer exists. There are few, if any, new jobs being created, and those that are pay less and provide no security whatsoever.

Instead of reading 'All the President's Men,' it might be wiser for Woodward and Berstein wanna-be's to, instead, crack open a biography of Einstein, Galbraith or Keynes.

The pen may be mightier than the sword, but the keyboard is no longer the meal ticket it once was. Look for calculators and slide rulers to replace reporter's notebooks and press badges as parents' stocking stuffers of choice this holiday season.