At 5:30 on a typical spring morning, I'm in our front yard with a cup of coffee, inhaling the moist darkness before loading my arms with newspapers that our reliable carrier has placed against the garage door. My load was very light one day this week. The New York Times was just 48 pages. The Wall Street Journal, 30 pages. The Austin American-Statesman, 30 pages.
The reason: little advertising. Print advertising began declining 10-15% annually after the arrival of the Internet. In the 1980s, there was so much advertising that the joke was that a publisher could be simultaneously successful and brain dead. (Of course, my last publisher, Mike Laosa, was the brilliant exception.)
And then coronavirus.
In March, advertising really tanked across the nation as most businesses shuttered. We retreated into our homes, ordering online.
Is this pandemic the coup de grace for newspapers?
It could be for their print versions, depending on how long the pandemic lasts. Digital is the present and the future. The Washington Post and New York Times have made the leap successfully. The Times could prosper on digital alone. Digital revenue is flat or even declining slightly for most local newspapers.
Meanwhile, just bad news. The Charlotte Observer and Miami Herald ended Saturday editions. The Austin Chronicle today published this week's edition online only, trimming back print editions from weekly to twice-a-month. The Chronicle now asks readers for donations. The Tampa Bay Times cut staff pay 10%. The Los Angeles Times is doing buyouts two years after its purchase by a billionaire.
I take no pleasure in this. The Austin American-Statesman is doing a good job on local coverage of COVID-19, and I'm glad to see that. Many of the editors and writers who are the face of the Austin American-Statesman were young staffers when I was editor. I wish them well.
The other day I swapped email with a friend, Jerry Ceppos, who was editor of the San Jose Mercury-News and dean of the Manship School of Mass Communications at Louisiana State University. Now teaching, he is an insightful thinker about newspapers.
"What concerns me about the financial impact of the virus is that it could wipe out news organizations that understand where they should have been headed—to online publication—but now won't have the time to make a transition."
Why should you care? Isn't every business or institution—including yours—poleaxed by this pandemic?
"The only people celebrating are crooked politicians, who suddenly can steal with impunity because fewer local news organizations are around to shine a light on them. One irony is that there will be more to steal because the federal money that will pour in to help end the pandemic," says Ceppos.
He's right. Congress is wrapping up work on a $2 trillion bailout. There's never been one close to that in size. Who will get that money and why?
That's where newspapers come in. If they don't earn their keep now, digital-only news sites will replace them.
Note: This story is developing and has been updated.
A group of protesters gathered outside of the Austin Police Department headquarters today, holding signs and chanting "no justice, no peace," as demonstrations continue in cities across the country following the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. Protesters in Austin have also drawn attention to the the killing of Michael Ramos by Austin police last month.
Hundreds have joined the demonstration. (Photo: Austonia staff)
It is not the first protest of the weekend.
Police in Austin made several arrests at a protest that took place last night and early this morning outside Austin Police Department headquarters downtown, KXAN reports.
Another protest is planned tomorrow at the Texas State Capitol.
Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore announced last night that the office will convene a special grand jury to consider the Ramos case.
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The University of Texas-Austin continued its march toward a new normal on Friday, as university President Gregory Fenves marked his last day of leadership after five years in office—the final two months of it dominated by sweeping pandemic-era changes on campus.
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Protests over police killings planned for Austin this weekend following widespread demonstrations across U.S.
At least two protests are planned in Austin this weekend over the recent killings of black men by police: Mike Ramos, who was fatally shot by an Austin Police Department officer on April 24 in Southeast Austin, and George Floyd, who died in police custody on Monday after a Minneapolis Police Department officer knelt on his neck. Both events were filmed.
As Texas navigates reopening restaurants and bars safely, al fresco spots provide the perfect place for long-quarantined Austin residents. Some of these favorites are open only on the patio, others are allowing customers to eat to-go orders in the space, and a few are full service—the details are subject to change. This is not an all-inclusive list, but here they are, in no particular order:
Upscale seafood fare is served under striped umbrellas on the tree-lined porch, with dogs allowed and an unfettered view of South Congress foot traffic.
Address: 1400 S. Congress Ave.
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- Reopening today: the zoo (masks required), water parks (advanced tickets required), driver's license offices (appointments required).
- As protests sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis spread to cities around the county, a demonstration drawing attention to both Floyd and Mike Ramos is planned for Austin this weekend.
- With local businesses concerned they can't make a profit at limited capacity, the city council may soon allow the use of sidewalks and parking lots to increase it, CBS Austin reports.
- KUT notes that, ultimately, it's up to voters to decide who votes by mail.
- Aaron Franklin will be inducted into the Barbecue Hall of Fame, writes Daniel Vaughn at Texas Monthly, just as his restaurant faces its biggest challenge yet.