Thursday, January 25, 2007

Allentown Times, RIP

So S.I. Newhouse and his Advance Publications have shuttered the Allentown Times, the city's only English-language community weekly.

The rationale was revealing: Advance is killing the Times not because the paper isn't profitable--it is--but because the company wants to invest more money in its online presence. (It's true that the company's PennLive site--which hosts the online versions of the Express-Times, the Allentown Times, and the --is painfully bad.)

It's worth noting that Time Inc., the nation's largest magazine publisher, announced cutbacks at its flagship, Time Magazine, for very similar reasons: to free up money for online investments.

One reason this trend is disturbing: (a) journalism is expensive; (b) most revenue--and journalists' salaries--still comesfrom print advertising; and (c) the revenue from online advertising remains relatively tiny. Right now, it's not at all clear that the internet can financially support real, professional journalism. As media companies shift resources to the web, they are diverting some of that print revenue away from reporting, and onto a platform that, at the moment at least, can't do the economic heavy-lifting necessary to support journalism.

We all know that online news is the newspaper's future, but all of us that care about quality journalism should be worried about the economics: The New York Times' 1200-reporter newsroom is expensive, and no army of bloggers can reproduce the Times' shoeleather reporting.

The other Times--Allentown's--was the city's only community weekly (not counting the Morning Call Weekly, which is a slimmed-down repackaging of the mother paper). The Valley is blanketed with community weeklies in other communities (owned, for the most part, by two chains, the Lehigh Valley News Group and the Times News group). Now the state's third-largest city has no community paper.

The Times had some good reporting, though it seemed wrong that it was reported and produced out of Bethlehem. Before the announced closure, I had intended to post about its recent, disturbing, circulation strategy: To deliver the paper only to affluent West-Enders in the 18104 area code, relegating the rest of the city to scattered kiosks. Advertising-driven demographics, of course.

Even so, the Times will be missed.

2 comments:

Bernie O'Hare said...

Interesting piece. You're right. No blogger army will replace good reporters. I only saw a few issues of the AT as I am on the east end of the Lehigh Valley. But I liked the paper and its reporting staff. I hope that they're still working.

Mr. Damien Brown said...

Jeff:

It is a privilege to share space in the cover article of the final Allentown times with you. As usual, your comments were articulate and thought provoking.

The AT may not have been delivering on the East Side for some time now. Family members of mine keep telling me they don't get it.

Finally, if the AT was profitable, and no competitor is around to fill the gap, I think an opportunity may be present. Know any investors anyone?