Vocus Report on the State of the Media: It's Really, Really Bad

Last Updated Jan 13, 2010 1:58 PM EST

No one paying attention could have missed the massive downswing in fortunes for traditional media companies in the U.S. over the past two years.

But just in case someone did, say by hiding in a cave at Tora Bora or wherever, the Vocus Media Research Team is out with a new report today detailing last year's carnage:

  • Approximately 293 newspapers folded.
  • A total of 1,126 magazines folded (eight of them very large ones with circulation of a million or more).
  • The breakdown of failed magazines by category was as follows -- 599 consumer titles (53 percent), 61 business, 36 technology/science, 376 trade (33 percent), and 54 online.
  • In 2010, "duplicate or competing consumer titles that cater to similar audiences will most likely fold."
  • In broadcast, commercial radio was very hard hit, with 10,000 jobs lost.
  • A total of 100 TV stations became endangered as their parent companies filed for Chapter 11 protection.
  • Almost a quarter of these TV stations (23) are owned by the Tribune Co.
  • The situation in TV could have been much worse, Sinclair Broadcasting, which owns 58 stations, said in mid-2009 that it might be close to filing, but did not do so by the end of the year.
While none of this is particularly surprising to those of us who follow the industry closely, it does raise questions about how much worse it can get.

The answer, apparently, is much worse.

In the newspaper sector, Alan Mutter notes that publishers may have to cut their losses long before that last loyal reader passes away:

"While there may be a sufficiently large audience of people interested in buying newspapers for a decade or longer, the high fixed costs associated with producing and delivering newspapers suggest that some publishers may not be able to sustain print products for as long as demand holds out."

The employment of journalists by newspapers has hit rock bottom already. Consider this report from Editor & Publisher (itself a victim of the slowdown when it shut down after 125 years in December):

"More than 40,000 newspaper jobs were lost in 2009, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. That is nearly twice the 21,000 cut in 2008 and more than any single year in the past 10 years. Even with furloughs, salary cuts and numerous retirement fund freezes, publishers lopped off a tragic number of positions, even as they sought to expand online and, of course, increase workloads for those who remain. The count at the end of 2009 is 284,220 jobs. In 1999, that number was at 424,500. If things don't slow down, any attempt to properly cover news, and write and edit it, will be lost if it hasn't been already.
"

As newspapers go, so go the other sectors, eventually, as magazines, radio and TV also give way to the rise of digital media companies.

If you were wondering which part of the coming year is likely to be the worst for conventional media operations, it may well be Q-1. Think March. At least that was the case last year when, according to Vocus, over a third (100) of 2009's newspapers failures occurred.

  • David Weir

    David Weir is a veteran journalist who has worked at Rolling Stone, California, Mother Jones, Business 2.0, SunDance, the Stanford Social Innovation Review, MyWire, 7x7, and the Center for Investigative Reporting, which he cofounded in 1977. He’s also been a content executive at KQED, Wired Digital, Salon.com, and Excite@Home. David has published hundreds of articles and three books,including "Raising Hell: How the Center for Investigative Reporting Gets Its Story," and has been teaching journalism for more than 20 years at U.C. Berkeley, San Francisco State University, and Stanford.