The newspaper industry which has experienced declining profits in the last few years leading to bankruptcies and closings in some cities received another jolt of bad news in a new study released by the Pew Research Center yesterday.

In the study just 43% of those surveyed said that losing their local newspaper would hurt civic life in their community a lot. Only 33% said they would personally miss reading their local newspaper if it were no longer available.

Those numbers jump when focusing on regular readers of newspapers to 56% saying that losing their paper would be a significant loss to the community and 55% would miss reading the paper if it disappeared.

Overall though newspapers are not the major source of news for those surveyed. That crown goes to local television stations and their websites with 68% versus 48% that say they regularly get their news from newspapers in print or online.

The real problem for the newspapers though is generational. Just 27% of those born after 1977 read a newspaper the previous day compared to 55% of those born before 1946.

To add insult to injury just 23% of those under 40 said they would miss their local newspaper if it disappeared.

Newspapers are now labeled as dinosaurs in the digital age and in need of a new model if they want to survive in the long term. In some ways this charge is true, but as someone who has grown up reading newspapers, the loss of the printed page would be a personal loss to me. As much as I like reading news online it is impossible for me to read an entire paper online in an efficient manner. Websites are just not laid out for an efficient reading of their entire content. Think about it. Can you read the New York Times cover to cover as easily online as you can the printed product? In the time it takes to click your mouse on every article or every section you could have read or skimmed the printed page in half the time.

Also there are things printed in the paper that can easily be missed when searching a website.

Newspapers are clearly in economic distress. They have been built on a model of high wages for writers and production staff riding the wave of ever increasing advertising rates to pad their bottom line. Those days are gone and the industry must come to grips with it.

Survival will mean making some difficult decisions. Newspapers are heavily unionized. That has to change to bring down labor costs and provide the maximum flexibility in a changing technological world. High paid veteran writers will have to be let go or asked to take substantial pay cuts to keep working. Some coverage should be eliminated. As much as I enjoy the wide variety of coverage in my local paper something half the size would probably suffice since that’s probably all that I really read on a regular basis anyway.

Hopefully the news executives will have the guts to make the tough decisions to save their publications. They would be better off streamlining all at once instead of the piecemeal cuts and layoffs they now employ which is far worse for employee moral and productivity than a one time housecleaning.

Unfortunately with many newspapers owned by those who have been in the business for generations they are likely to continue to move slowly and only ensure the demise of the industry.

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