The sixth annual State of the Media 2009 report released late Sunday offers the hardest portrait yet of the American newspaper industry. This is the second take I'll summarize and there will be more to come in the time ahead.
The report authors set the tone in the opening sentence: "The newspaper industry exited a harrowing 2008 and entered 2009 in something perilously close to free fall."
With that said, the Project for Excellence in Journalism report does not believe the newspaper is dead or even really dying --- at least, the multiplatform efforts of the newspaper-built newsroom. It notes the sector was quite profitable in 2008, that it holds a very large share of advertising, and that its audience remains quite strong.
But it is under some siege, the economic downturn has distracted its efforts to reshape the business, it has made some questionable calls, and it is by no means assured a bright future.
In the present circumstance, the authors say it does not make sense for newspaper companies to shut the presses and go online-only. But that doesn't mean change isn't necessary: Costs need to be controlled, and with that will come less journalism and the potential that cuts will disaffect customers.
There is little room for price increases or to charge for content online, the report asserts. The business will rebound on the basis of its journalism, and while the newspaper industry seems poised to capitalize on innovation, it isn't clear if it can attract the sort of innovation necessary to succeed.