What is the Future of News Distribution?

Newsprint at Wichita Eagle

This week I attended an open house event held by the Wichita Eagle. As part of the event, I took a quick tour of their plant. This photo shows rolls of newsprint in the basement of the building, waiting to be turned into newspapers. Ink distribution systems are in the background.

How long will this go on, news being delivered on paper? A few weeks ago I attended a talk given by Davis Merritt, former editor of the Eagle (see Newspapers are Dying; Journalism We Hope Is Not). He said that in five years, newspapers won’t be using paper anymore. Views like this seem to be common and recent events seem to point this way. Soon, the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News will provide home delivery on Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays only. I’ve been told that the Eagle either has or soon will stop same-day delivery to Topeka.

But who really knows? I mentioned Merritt’s remarks to a high-level manager at the Eagle, and she said he’s been saying that for 20 years.

2 Comments

  • I think some of the older folks who haven’t learned computing and Internet skills will always prefer paper newsprint. But beyond that? I’m not for sure.

    I do know that the Eagle has pretty much stopped Western Kansas distribution. The future is pretty much online, but there were always predictions of things going to past that never came true.

    i.e. video rental tapes were suppose to end movie theaters, but movie theaters actually became bigger. TV news was suppose to end radio and radio became bigger than ever and still growing with the advent of satellite and HD radio.

    So maybe print news will be big in the future, but just in another format than we are accustomed to now. Perhaps going beyond small news articles but focus on indepth, investigating and expose’ material.

  • I too hope journalism – and especially newspaper journalism – continues in Wichita, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

    Former Eagle editor W. Davis “Buzz” Merritt was right to harshly criticize Knight-Ridder in his book “Knightfall” for demanding ever-increasing profit margins and forcing publishers to cut important resources. Cutting off 10,000+ readers in 1996 was the only option publisher Reid Ashe could see to meet KR’s 22.5% profit demand. Revenue from western Kansas subscriptions didn’t cover the expense of printing and delivering the papers. To meet profit growth targets The Eagle was forced to trade away the clout of being the state’s paper.

    Further budget cuts curtailing out-state coverage and civic sponsorships verified for many the idea that The Eagle didn’t care about much beyond taking more money from Wichita.

    Today The Eagle does a decent job with Kansas.com, a tool that could let it restore state-wide interest, but the paper’s leadership still doesn’t see the reality that it has resources beyond the paper’s reporters. Readers and bloggers like Kansas Liberty are also sources and contributors who could dramatically enhance what the readers of The Eagle and Kansas.com could see and understand.

    Corporate profit requirements may be the hobbles which restrict the paper’s ability to stay ahead of the pack but bias against the intelligence and contributions of people not on the payroll are the blinders which prevented Buzz and today’s newspaper managers from seeing which way to turn.

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