N&O struggles to survive

March 12, 2009 3:20:30 PM PDT
It used to be that "stop the presses" meant changing a newspaper's front page because of big breaking news. Now, more and more, it means something else. Daily newspapers are folding or filing for bankruptcy in a number of big cities. Hoping to avoid that, the Raleigh News and Observerand its parent company are about to make some very tough decisions.

The presses are still humming at the N&O. Readership is actually higher than its ever been, but the revenue stream is drying up. It started with the loss of classified advertising to the internet with sites like eBay and Craigslist. But that was just the start of it explained Managing Editor John Drescher.

"On top of that, you have a very severe and deep recession that's really hurting our advertising base, particularly among the automobile industry and residential real estate," he said.

To save money, he and publisher Orage Quarles will cut everyone's pay by up to 10 percent most likely. Others will lose their jobs altogether. How many and who Drescher's not saying.

"Nobody likes to take a pay cut or forced furlough. Most people think that's better than being laid off, of course. We've had to say goodbye to some really great colleagues in the past year. We're going to have to do it again. Nobody likes it. It's awful. It's bad for them. It's bad for everybody," he said.

McClatchy, the parent company, will have trimmed its workforce by a third when all the cuts are made, saving $300 million. Drescher says he doesn't think the N&O will fold like some daily newspapers have, but he says it will be different with more and more emphasis on its online edition. And, that may cost you in the future.

"Right now the revenue you get online is strictly from advertising. There's been an increasing amount of discussion in recent months about charging for online content and that's something we are interested in studying," he said.

That means buying a subscription to their website, something that is now free. He's also looking at increasing the price of the printed version, something that hasn't happened in many years.

Drescher's optimistic. While the future of newspapers will be less about ink and more about pixels, he claims the N&O will still be around for a long, long time, just with fewer employees.

In case you wondered, the company can't avoid job and pay cuts by just raising the price of the paper. Drescher says the money it makes from subscriptions is just 17 percent of its overall revenue.


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