JAMESTOWN-Have you noticed? Southern Chautauqua County’s leading (only) printed newspaper is slimming down.

The Post-Journal about three weeks ago changed its printing “web” to 21 inches wide, down from 22 inches. This means  two pages across  are about 4.5 per cent smaller than before.

If you just have to measure for yourself, measure only the printed portion. The white space around the page (“the gutter” in newspaper lingo) doesn’t count. However, if you compare a current edition with a paper printed a few weeks ago you’ll immediately  see the overall size reduction.

TheCAT  (which doesn’t require the murder of innocent trees) explains:

Why? Short answer: To save paper or newsprint as it’s called. Also, obviously, to save precious Ogden shekels, something the West Virginia outfit that owns  the Jamestown and Dunkirk dailies excels at. It is rumored the corporate motto “We write bad, but save money good.” hangs at a secret location in Wheeling.

But gentle and good-natured  joshing aside, the shortage of newsprint, forgive the pun, is the most pressing reason, and our local paper is not alone. The problem is nationwide.

The Buffalo News  disclosed May 6, that a few weeks before it came close to not publishing a Sunday paper because the necessary paper was not on hand. They got it published, but just.

How bad is the problem? IT’S BAD…

Curtesy Pew Research

Most of us realize online merchants have caused cutbacks in so called “brick and mortar” retailers. BON*TON’s going out of business is just one example.

However, those goodies from cyberspace arrive in corrugated cardboard boxes-made by paper mills. These are many times the same mills that manufacture newsprint. Uh-Oh!

The paper box business is profitable and growing. The newsprint market is not as profitable and because of declining newspaper circulation is shrinking. The paper companies are rational players: Make more corrugated paper, less newsprint.

Then there are tariff fears. A lot of paper is manufactured in Canada, and those manufacturers started to plan on US tariffs last year. Part of the resulting strategy was to emphasize high-profit items like cardboard stock because the demand would overcome tariff-based price hikes. And of course ship more newsprint to countries with lower tariffs.

On top of everything else, there’s a shortage of qualified truck drivers for newsprint shipping since new regulations that relate to the commodity took effect in January. The Buffalo paper in that May 6th article estimated only one driver is available for every 12 truckloads of newsprint.

The News reported the price of newsprint rose by a third since last October. The paper, for all these reasons, has reduced the average number of pages in its editions.

THE NEWSPAPER’S PRINT BUSINESS IS DOOMED

I loved my time working as a newspaper reporter. It is a uniquely satisfying way to make a living. However, the then Buffalo Evening News had a daily circulation of 280,000 when I covered the Genesee County beat from 1976-79. Their print circulation is now about 100,000 for the daily paper. Last year the operation barely turned a profit.

Berkshire Hathaway, controlled by investment wizard Warren Buffett, owns The News and 31 other print news operations. Each is generating less advertising revenue each year. Berkshire’s Media Group which oversees the newspapers is cutting jobs and not filling vacancies, according to the company’s own media releases.

Buffett, appearing on CNBC February 27, predicted only two print papers are “assured” survival the next 10 years: The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal,  and “maybe” The Washington Post. These three have digital publications people will pay to read, he explained.

Meanwhile the nation’s other 1,400 print papers  “haven’t figured out a way to make the digital model complement the print model,” Buffett said.

WHY THE ONLINE NEWS SOURCE IS THE VIABLE BUSINESS

First, let’s tip our baseball caps to print journalism. It has a remarkably long and prosperous history. Movable type was invented in the 16th century and “print journalism” followed in the 17th century. Improvements in printing technology followed and by the last third of the 1800’s mechanical printing methods could pour out newspapers in great numbers very quickly.

Print was the way to reach the “mass market.” Period. Then came radio, television, and while the number of print outlets did shrink, the survivors generally made money, a lot of it. But it still was aging technology. It required lots of paper, ink, production employees. It can’t provide video. Advertisers must pay extra for color. And delivery is cumbersome.

Online solves all these drawbacks, plus it is immediate. But the biggest advantage is the ability to focus revenue on content. Very simply, this is an advantage the print business cannot overcome with its printed product.

The huge fixed costs required to maintain a print news operation mean advertising and subscriber revenue pay many bills not related to content, and content ultimately drives the number of readers and viewers. Online sources have very low fixed costs, and can concentrate revenue on content.

All this means the print medium does not have the proper “model” to continue. Because of fixed costs the medium must cut the number of folks in the newsroom-the providers of content, the life blood.

Now, most print operations are attempting to bolster ad revenue with digital editions. These largely are free of charge. So why buy the print product? Maybe the weekend edition for the coupons. But coupons are more and more available online.

The problems facing printed news media are many-too many.