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December 29, 2008

Cincinnati Enquirer

The Cincinnati Enquirer is on life support. It’s dying. I’ll go on the record predicting the time of death to be on or before July, 2010. How do I know this? Let’s just say I have some special insight.

Over 48 years ago, my first paying job was with The Cincinnati Enquirer. I was maybe eight-years old at the time, and wore an oversized orange apron with two deep pockets that had the paper's name emblazoned across the front of it. My mother told me later in life she was terrified about me walking around the neighborhood with wads of cash as I diligently collected the subscription money from those who had the paper delivered to them each day. History will record those as the golden days of the Enquirer.

After a few years of collecting money for the Enquirer, I got my dream job. It was an actual paper route where I delivered the 7-Star edition of the Post and Times Star to 100 people on Riddle Road in Clifton. Can you believe the Post was so popular that several editions were printed each day as the day’s news developed? The last edition of the day was the 8-Star.

The Post was the afternoon newspaper in Cincinnati, Ohio during the 1960’s. It stopped publication just last year, succumbing to the same disease that’s infected The Cincinnati Enquirer.

Television news was in its infancy a half-century ago, so newspapers had an advantage in being able to get the latest details of what was happening in front of the eyeballs of those who wanted the news. Radios were good at breaking stories, but people seemed to place much more trust in the printed word. But I digress.

Yesterday The Cincinnati Enquirer published its own obituary, although the publisher, editor, columnists and other employees of the paper would probably vehemently disagree. This death notice took the form as an announcement on the front page in the left column just under the lead story. At least they got the position right, as we here in the USA read top to bottom and left to right. That upper corner of the front page is right where everyone’s eyes went first.

In the announcement, Ms. Margaret Buchanan, the Enquirer’s publisher and president, stated that beginning with today’s edition the following would happen:

  • The paper was going to use less newsprint (paper) and ink
  • Revenues have declined
  • No classified ads will run on Mondays and Tuesdays
  • Television programming will only show evening shows
  • Subscriptions are up

There were other changes that were detailed in yesterday’s announcement, but suffice it to say that The Cincinnati Enquirer is shrinking. This means less room for ads, less room for news and less space for things that matter each day in peoples’ lives - that being solutions to the everyday problems all of us face.

What Ms. Buchanan didn’t tell you is that over the past year the paper did a restructuring with respect to personnel in an effort to stave off the infection. Months ago, in a quiet announcement, The Cincinnati Enquirer bade farewell to many seasoned editors and reporters who took advantage of buyout offers.

These people are what really make a local paper. Without the local writers, the paper just becomes a place for stories and features taken off the wire services. Just glancing at today’s paper, I would venture to say that over 60 percent of the editorial content of The Cincinnati Enquirer is not written by its employees. In fact, I’d be willing to bet an Aglamesis chocolate malt the number is closer to 70 percent.

All of this adds up to a product that’s declining in quality in a marketplace where competition for attention is fierce. In the glory days of the newspaper industry, there really was no competition. But The Cincinnati Enquirer, as well as thousands of other daily newspapers, fell asleep at the wheel while they were making all those subscription and advertising-sales deposits into their bank accounts. In my opinion, the management of the paper vastly underestimated the speed with which the Internet could eviscerate an opponent.

The papers didn’t realize that years ago, with their deep classified advertising sections and vast quantities of display advertising, they were the search engines of their time. They only competed with the infamous telephone yellow pages in the search-engine wars. The subscribers of The Cincinnati Enquirer and the Post and Times Star searched the paper each day for the companies and products that would solve their problems.

But not anymore. The companies that solve problems each day with products and services have migrated to the Internet. I know, as tens of thousands of them advertise on my website each day. People use the Internet to solve their problems, not newspapers.

Today’s first new edition of The Cincinnati Enquirer brought back vivid memories from 45 years ago. It reminded me of those lazy Saturday afternoons I would deliver the Post to my customers. Saturday was the lightest day for the Post. These papers had virtually nothing in them. They were skeleton papers. Compare this to the beefy Thursday edition that was always over 100 pages, often closer to 120 pages. Oh, did my shoulder ache on Thursday nights!

Each Saturday I could put all 100 papers in my over-the-shoulder paper bag. The page count each Saturday was almost always between 28 and 32 pages. A newspaper this small can be folded neatly and quickly into a square that will sail through the air some 30 feet onto a balcony or someone’s porch. I know, as I threw thousands of these soaring paper platters over time.

Today’s revolutionary new Cincinnati Enquirer was all of 32 pages. I could hear its bones rattle when I shook it out of its bright orange plastic wrapper. If you plan to attend the funeral, be sure to wear black. The wet ink from the last edition won’t show on your clothes or face. That’s the voice of experience talking.

Posted by Tim Carter at 5:38 PM

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