The Dying Newspaper Business – UPDATED

This isn’t news really, but the newspaper business is dying. The causes are many but one of the main catalysts is the Internet. It’s a similar scenario to cable channels killing off the network news broadcasts. The reason is simple people want choices. At least there were 3 network news broadcasts (even though they were often indistinguishable from one another) but in many cities, including my own, the daily newspaper business is a monopoly. It has been here since The Miami News went out of business in 1988.

Since then the quality of The Miami Herald has been quite questionable. Many of the paper’s journalists are “cub reporters” making rookie mistakes. Oftentimes there appears to be nobody editing the paper too. I remember one issue in 1999 previewing Super Bowl XXXIII featuring the Minnesota Vikings logo on the masthead as the representative from the NFC instead of the Atlanta Falcons. The opponents had been determined more than a week before and yet they managed to get it wrong.

Newspaper circulations are down across the country while the papers are charging more than ever for advertising space. Some of the unsavory methods the papers have resorted to in order to maintain their circulations include giving the paper away for free at places like Dryclean USA. Almost every week I get at least one edition of The Miami Herald on my lawn even though I am not (and can’t remember ever being) a subscriber. I am quite sure that this isn’t a mistake, but rather the result of guaranteed distribution promised to some advertiser.

It seems that at least some at 1 Herald Plaza have seen the future and believe that the role of the traditional fish-wrap will be greatly diminished. Tom Fiedler, the Herald’s Executive editor, recently distributed a memo to Herald employees acknowledging as much.

Additionally, we’ve seen a recent proliferation of blogs by Herald writers and columnists that are apparently sanctioned by the paper (they carry the Herald’s masthead at the top). The paper finally seems to be taking a few clumsy steps into the future. I say clumsy because there seems to be little strategy behind the moves the paper is making. So 48 hours ago I sent Tom Fiedler the email below.

Hello Mr. Fiedler,

My name is Henry Gomez and I write for several blogs including:

I am writing a piece about the proliferation of Herald Blogs (the ones that are officially sanctioned by the Miami Herald and written by various reporters and columnists from the paper). I was hoping that you could help me by clarifying a few things.

First off, does the Herald give any guidelines to its bloggers? In other words is there a protocol that Herald bloggers must adhere to that perhaps other bloggers don’t? If so, is the protocol different for reporters than it is for columnists? Some Herald columnists also report, where do they fit in with regards to the rules for blogging (if there are any)? If these rules exist are they publicly available anywhere? If not, why not?

Are there any rules for Herald bloggers with regards to the comments sections of their blogs? Is there a policy regarding the practice of “comment moderation” (where the blog owner deletes or edits comments that may [be] offensive or consist of personal attacks)? Or are they supposed to leave any comment intact regardless of its content or veracity?

In your opinion what is the role of blogs in the Herald’s future? I know from a memo you wrote to Herald employees that the Internet is an area where you want to see the Herald’s presence and importance grow. How do blogs fit in to this? Are they merely a method of advertising the paper (either the printed paper or the online version)? If not, then what is the purpose of these blogs?


Henry Gomez

I re-sent the email yesterday. I have not received a response to date. Now, I know Mr. Fiedler must be a busy man and unlike Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, I don’t think the Herald “owes” me anything. But I think it speaks volumes that I didn’t get answers to some very straightforward questions. I did get several hits on my blog yesterday from Knight Ridder (the publisher of the Herald) in Miami so I assume he checked it out to see what it’s about.

I don’t think the Herald has really thought out an endgame for its blogs. Perhaps my email helped Mr. Fiedler realize this and thus he has not wanted to comment while he consults with his people and determines what exactly those standards are. If so, the Herald is in worse trouble than I thought. Well Tom, as Ted Knight said in one of my favorite movies, Caddyshack, “We’re WAITING!”

UPDATE: On a related note, Bob Norman of the The Miami New Times has a blog post about the Herald’s new comments sections on its online news articles. Hat tip to Alesh at the excellent Critical Miami

Henry “Conductor” Gomez

5 thoughts on “The Dying Newspaper Business – UPDATED”

  1. “I don’t think the Herald has really thought out an endgame for its blogs”
    Seems like the Herald is scrambling to catch the blogging trend. As the old saying goes, if you can’t beat them, join them. They don’t like the foudation of their ivory towers shaken by “mere peasants” of the blogosphere.

  2. Practices that smack of desperation is right. The Sun Sentinel, all of a sudden, started delivering their Spanish-language Saturday edition, a couple of years ago. We don’t subscribe to any MSM stuff, and saw this for what it was – a hook to bait us into subscribing. Que va, Jose! It didn’t take long for the screed to get tossed into the recycling bin, unread, having quickly tired of the liberal-biased “tearjerker” articles about “poor undocumented (pseudo)immigrants and how Uncle was making things, oh, so so tough for them.” In December, had a chuckle when we got a “holiday” card from the carrier, essentially asking for a “holiday” gratuity…that got tossed into the recycle bin too. Last Saturday, the paper included a little card with a warning (oohh – we’re scared!) that “the subscription would be cancelled unless we heard from you soon.” Well! Interesting, since we never subscribed. Go ahead, Sun-Sentinel…make my day.

  3. The media business is like any other – top executives announce a policy, then the grunts have to figure out how to impliment it. The folks who think up the plans never have the practical experience needed to think through possible problems. Journalistic standards are rarely considered.

    When I first read the memo, I thought this was simply a promotional device, and a way to get more work out of the reporters without paying them anything more. The longer this goes on, the more I think I was right. The only thought given the blogs was as a device to drive up traffic in hopes of making sales. There was no thought given to journalistic standards.

  4. Henry,
    Why do you bother to waste precious time reading Herald blogs? I perused them only once, considered it trash, and have never read them since.
    Don’t hold your breath for a response from Tom Fiedler. He let Ana Veciana-Suarez stay at the Herald after she admitted lying under oath in court and being a convicted perjurer. So much for truth and ethics at the Herald. I certainly don’t miss the Miami News, especially because Veciana-Suarez and other present Herald reporters used to work there also.
    Long live freedom of the web.

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