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The ever shrinking paper

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Paper Guy, May 11, 2009.

  1. Paper Guy

    Paper Guy Member

    I know many (most?) of us have had to deal with a shrinking newspaper. But what I faced today has me hoping that my space has hit rock bottom.

    A few months ago, our paper physically shrank a few inches (for the second or third time) from 50 inch broad to 47 in broad. Since then, my space has been shrinking as well.

    Our paper is only printed twice a week (fairly small town). When I first started, I typically had 5-6 pages per issue. Recently, I have been hovering between 2 and 4, with more 2s and 3s than anything else.

    So when I found out today that our next issue would be two pages, I wasnt that surprised, even if we are in the middle of high school playoffs (the most important time of the year for us, obv.). When I usually get two pages, they typically have no ads on them, so they are at least completely open.

    Later in the day, I found out that my two pages actually had ads this time. In reality, I have 1.3 pages of space. In the middle of high school playoffs.

    I'm really quite bummed about this. I mean, i don't even have a sports section anymore. It's a joke.

    I was wondering if anyone else had faced the same dearth of space? I'm not quite sure if it's worth doing this job anymore if I literally don't have a spot in the paper anymore...
  2. many or most of us -- hell, maybe all of us -- have felt the same way recently, i would think.

    and if we feel that way, how do our readers feel?

    we're not putting out newspapers anymore, we're just trying to survive day to day
  3. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member

    You should just be glad for the ads. Seriously.
  4. slappy4428

    slappy4428 Active Member

  5. Paper Guy

    Paper Guy Member

    Maybe, but we really should have more ads. I live in a county with pretty much no competition. It's all rural. Much, if not most, of the county doesnt have broadband access. And the economy is based mostly on federal spending, so while the rest of the country is getting hammered, we are fairly safe.

    There's no reason that our ad revenue should have dropped as far as it has.
  6. Frank_Ridgeway

    Frank_Ridgeway Well-Known Member

    Ridiculous space is not really a new thing and it's always been frustrating. In the early 1980s I was working on what many people would consider a mid-major, the paper of record for about half a state. Nothing really going on there for most of the summer except a Class AAA baseball team until college football camps opened. But still ... my gig for a while included a lone layout shift on Monday nights for Tuesdays, and the typical news hole on Monday nights in the summer was 18-20 columns. Mind you, this was a newspaper that considered itself "a paper of record." You take six columns for the cover and six columns for MLB boxes and a tight baseball roundup and two columns for the other agate and one column for briefs, and a couple columns for jumps, and leftover you have ... 1-3 columns! If I ran more than a mug shot as inside art, it was cause for merriment. I left there most Monday nights wanting to kick something. It seemed to me that a monkey could do my job. I understood why it was the way it was -- they figured they'd squeeze us during the slowest night of the slowest season and loosen up when stuff actually happened in that town. But they were doing it on my night! An extra three columns would fucking kill them? It seemed to me that an extra three columns would be such a small expense for what would be the difference between impossibly stupid and borderline respectability.

    I could cloak my frustration under the guise of caring about the readers, but the truth is that no matter how much we give the readers, it's never enough anyway. My true concern was not being able to show what I could do so I could get a better job at a bigger paper. There's nothing wrong with that motive, but I was too young to know that editors at larger papers fully understood that space was out of my control -- and that the ability to cram shit in orderly (and make ruthless but intelligent decisions about what to leave out) is an important skill no matter where you are in newspapers.

    It's out of your control -- the section is going to be tiny no matter what you do with it. If the readers are being shorted, that's a decision that's made above you. You can't make it spectacular and you can't make it complete. But you can make it fundamentally sound, and having done that much will serve you very well when you get to a better place. Concentrate on that -- clean pages, better headlines, captions that do more than identify. You'll always be able to get something out of it. Don't spin your wheels. Pick some specific skills that aren't a function of space and develop those.
  7. Paper Guy

    Paper Guy Member

    Thanks for the insight, Frank.

    I guess the most frustrating part is that it's occurring during the most important time of the year. I mean, if they did this in June, when I literally have nothing to cover, I wouldn't mind. But high school playoffs? That's the only time of the year when I become even remotely relevant.

    Plus, I just know that even tho I have <2 pages now, there are going to be two or three issues in a month or so when I will have 5 or 6. I can feel it coming. NOTHING happens during the summer here. We cover beer league softball for Christ's sake (yes, laugh all you want). THAT'S when I should be getting 2 pages, not now.

    Out of the 20-30 playoff games that have already happened, I've been able to cover three. That's inexcusable for a section that relies on high school sports.
  8. Rosie

    Rosie Active Member

    Paper Guy, without knowing how your paper is dummied, is it possible to "steal" pages from the other sections? I guess I'm very fortunate, we all have a good relationship in editorial and we have been able to do this at times - not easy, but at least for us it works most the time.
  9. Paper Guy

    Paper Guy Member

    Not really. I share a section with Community and they usually only have a page or two more. Sometimes there is some wiggle room, but it's rare.
  10. podunk press

    podunk press Active Member

    I'm more concerned about what the readers think.

    I can write a 10 inch story, sure, but the subscribers are noticing these "thin" papers.
  11. steveu

    steveu Well-Known Member

    And the price of newsprint is supposedly coming down. Ya. Right.
  12. Frank_Ridgeway

    Frank_Ridgeway Well-Known Member

    They are noticing the thin papers, sure. But ... a couple years ago, I was in a store that sells old newspapers. I was looking at some papers from the 1960s -- major metros running 24 pages total. The New York Times did not run a daily op-ed page until 1969 and the Monday-Saturday editions ran in two sections until 1976. (Abe Rosenthal changed that, and the introduction of advertising-rich specialized sections such as SportsMonday and Science Times began a period of unprecedented wealth not only for the NYT but for the papers that copied it.) Really, what we consider the good old days were very thin on space. We got incredibly fat in the 1980s. But before that, the weekday papers were really scrawny.
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