David Carr’s bleak outlook for newspapers

Newspapers’ financial distress “is more visible by the week,” writes New York Times media columnist David Carr. “With underfunded pension plans, unserviceable debt and legacy manufacturing processes and union agreements, the newspaper industry looks a lot like, well, steel, autos and textiles.” (Carr says he’s told by “two highly placed newspaper executives” that more newspaper companies will probably use strategic bankruptcies to deal with pension obligations.)

David Carr

The bread and butter for most of the industry is local information. But it has become seemingly impossible to make money creating daily compendiums and throwing it on people’s doorsteps. ….

And it’s not just newspapers. AOL’s ambitious local news effort, called Patch, is losing $150 million a year, by some estimates, and is no closer to cracking the code.

Carr says the Newhouse family’s regional Web sites — including nola.com, mlive.com, al.com — “have generated traffic and have active forums, but they are a miserable place to consume news. Balky and ugly, with a digital revenue base below much of the rest of the industry, they seem like a shaky platform on which to build a business.”

But, he adds, “who is to say that the Newhouse family is any more misguided than the rest of an industry that is scrambling for safe ground? After all, the math is daunting, and there is a shortage of magic bullets.”

* Newspapers are running out of time to adapt to a digital future (New York Times)
* Hannah Miet on Carr’s column and Kari Dequine’s letter to Romenesko (Atlantic Wire)
* Gannett’s pension plan is worth a closer look (Gannett Blog)