Newspapers R.I.P?

When The Arizona Republic--the dying Tucson Citizen's Gannett sister paper to the north--laid off 31 people last week, it got scant attention. The Phoenix New Times covered it, and some journalism trade publications made note, but that was pretty much it.

Gannett's reason for the layoffs? Well, the biggest newspaper chain wants more--it reportedly wants to consume Tribune Co., which owns the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times.

While the thought of Gannett getting its mitts of mediocrity on these two still-good newspapers is nauseating, the truly awful aspect of this story is Gannett is not alone: A lot of newspaper companies have been laying off people lately.

Newspaper chains got used to massive--30 percent, even 40 percent and more, in some cases--profit margins. Then came the Internet, and Craigslist, and Sept. 11, and a bunch of other things that created bumps in the road for newspapers. Profits started decreasing; stockholders and other owners got less money in their pockets; greed won out, and the newspapers were forced to make cuts. The newspaper industry as a whole did not look forward and invest in itself.

With less in terms of resources, many of these papers suffered from diminished quality. Fewer people are reading many mainstream newspapers now--at least the dead-tree versions--and as a result, profits are decreasing even more. And owners and stockholders today are forcing newspapers to make more cuts.

See what's happening here?

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: The mainstream newspaper may be dying, but the Internet and free-ads Web sites are not principally to blame. The profit-hungry industry itself is at fault.