This issue of Isthmus is the 26th of our 33rd year of publishing. To the reader that signifies that we're half way through the 52 weeks of calendar year 2008. For us at Isthmus, it's the last issue of our fiscal year that ends June 30. And it will probably not come as a surprise when I tell you it's been a challenging one.
Witness the mayhem that's visited the daily newspaper industry. The demise of the The Capital Times as a print daily newspaper, relegating Madison to the common status of a one-daily-newspaper town, was a major jolt to the local media firmament. It spoke volumes about the straits that Capital Newspapers Inc., was facing.
The red ink is flowing freely at major newspaper companies. The New York Times Company reported its first quarter of '08 revenues to be off 10.6%. Belo, a big daily newspaper owner out of Dallas, was off 12% in the first quarter. The Tribune Company, publishers of The Chicago Tribune and The Los Angeles Times among many others, has seen its first quarter ad revenues fall 15% and its operating profit plunge 74%. Accompanying these scary numbers have been successive rounds of layoffs among journalists at the affected papers.
The narrow strip of the publishing industry inhabited by papers like Isthmus, referred to as alternative newsweeklies, or alts for short, has not been visited by quite the blood letting that the big boys have experienced, but there is anguish in our industry also. The recent convention of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, held June 4-7 in Philadelphia, was the lightest attended of the 29 that I have experienced. Noticeable in their absence were the big market papers - no attendees from Chicago or Minneapolis, for example. They seem to be affected the most by changing fortunes.
What's causing all this dislocation? There would seem to be a number of reasons that vary in their significance from market to market. A constant: There is a tectonic shift occurring in media these days. The emergence of the Internet as a social and commercial tool has attracted advertising and marketing dollars from newspapers, especially classifieds. But there are also serious troubles in housing, automobiles and employment that have had negative repercussions among many allied industries, including media.
I suppose you could look at it in the biblical way - seven years of feast to be followed by seven years of famine. However you choose to look at it, the picture could be characterized as grim. But there are some hopeful signs. Next week I'll talk about them.