USC: Most print newspapers will be gone in five years

In a televised report that was broadcast on First Coast News today, a report from USC Annenberg’s Center for the Digital Future predicts that most print newspapers will be gone in five years — but the editor of Florida Times-Union makes a different prediction.

Times-Union Editor Frank Denton gave the Jacksonville television station an interview in which he predicts, “You’ll still be able to pick up a print edition of the Times-Union a decade from now”.

On January 1, 1983, Morris Communications of Augusta, Georgia, purchased Florida Publishing Company from Seaboard Coast Line Railroad; including the St. Augustine Record, the morning Florida Times-Union, the afternoon Jacksonville Journal and the weekly Courier Journal in Crescent City.

After 27 years, on January 19, 2010, Florida Publishing Company marched into bankruptcy court under the ownership of Morris Publishing Group, LLC. Trying to wrangle nearly $300 million in debt proved too much.

“You know, what we’ve done, we’ve controlled our expenses,” Denton said in the interview. According to records on file with the bankruptcy court, Morris “controlled” expenses by reducing its debt to something like $100 million; forcing creditors to take less than they were lawfully owed.

Denton confessed that circulation at the Times-Union is down “significantly”, even though he claims the paper remains profitable and has fully embraced the shift to digital.

The “Center for the Digital Future” report names The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal as the only major dailies likely to continue in print form five years from now.

USC Annenberg also predicts PC sales will plummet to just 4-6 percent of the market, with tablets becoming the primary tool for personal computing. Denton said the paper is preparing for the migration with the launch of an iPad tablet edition around January 10th.

Denton said a final decision has not been reached on whether the tablet version will be free or subscription based, but he tipped his hand by saying that professional journalism is expensive to produce. “If it’s going to be any good and if it’s going to be independent, it can’t be free.”

At one point, the newspaper editor boasts, “We’re staffed 24/7, we cover news around the clock.” The fact is that the paper has gone through several rounds of layoffs, including the elimination of 39 positions in September.

“Currently the newsroom has a staff of 85 journalists,” said Denton. “We have a fully converged newsroom so that most of our journalists work across media.”

What is Denton’s point of view of the newspaper industry? “As a commodity it is very important to our community, to our democracy and to people’s lives.”

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