I’m not a charity case. Are you?

There is a new Facebook group called, “Don’t let newspapers die.”

It encourages journalists to try to get people to buy a newspaper again. Not by producing a better or a more relevant product mind you, but by badgering people to buy a product that they no longer find valuable.

The official logo for this group is a drawing of an old-time newspaper boy with the slogan, “Save a journalist buy a newspaper.” Listen, plenty of journalists don’t work for newspapers, and most people want their journalism in another format than a newspaper. 

Newspapers aren’t charities. In fact, many newspapers companies enjoyed gigantic profits for years. Instead of reinvesting those profits in R&D and focusing on the future, newspaper companies squandered it all. Most newspapers operated as monopolies for years.

Are the people joining this group on Facebook (which is officially listed as “cause” that people can donate money to), also going to donate money to Microsoft one day if it falters and looks like it is falling under? After all, it was a one-time monopoly with astronomical profits. 

The last reason this group is ridiculous (and shows that many journalists don’t get even understand the business they are in) is that most newspapers lose money on each newspaper sold. That is to say that printing and distribution costs outstrip the gains from subscription and newsstand sales. The vast majority of newspapers make their money on advertising (The Christian Science Monitor is a notable exception).

Advertisers have been fleeing newspapers for year. Now we’re in a global financial crisis. Companies naturally have to cut back on advertising. Unless newspapers substantially raise the cost of a single newspaper (always a hit in bad economic times), selling more newspapers won’t help. There just aren’t enough advertising dollars to go around right now. 

I’m glad to support real non-profits like David Cohn’s Spot.Us. I think the non-profit model for future Web journalism can work in certain instances. But newspapers aren’t charities. Almost all are for-profit businesses that should have been leaders in online journalism.

But they’re not. And whose fault is that?

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  • Thank you, thank you, thank you. After about the 15th invite to join that group – all of which I turned down – I was starting to think I was the only sane person left out there.

  • Trey

    I joined this group for obvious reasons — I work for a newspaper. I graduated a year ago from college and found a job in this already dying news business because I love it. I like the smell of ink and being able to feel my news in my hands. I am an exception, however, because this was my father’s business as well. Not his newspaper, mind you, but his choice of work. The only newspapers still making profits are small community-orientated newspapers — the only source of news for these residents in under 20,000 people cities. Obviously, most of the newspapers the general public still associate us with are large publications: USA Today, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the New York Times, blah, blah, blah. The point being, I still get my check because we make money selling newspapers. Advertising makes most of my checks, but my newspaper remains the only source of information for my tiny metropolis where Walmart is still the center of town. So please, before making your comments about how we’re all dead, remember that newspapers were the only source of news for most people older than you, and we, the educated few, are lucky enough to remain viable in these economic times. Who thought a newspaper job would be worth more than making automobiles.

  • @ Trey
    Nice post. If only the “big city” papers could stop drinking their own Kool-Aid and focus on audiences of about 20,000 life would be so much better for them.

    I live in Brooklyn. In my “neighborhood” there are about 90,000 people. So that should mean that it could support about 4 newspapers…if they had the right info in the right format at the right price.

    I especially liked when you said ” Who thought a newspaper job would be worth more than making automobiles.”