DeGroot: The Wasteland Cometh

The latest from unofficial Pulp correspondent John DeGroot, packed with interesting data:

When it comes to whistling in the dark, Sun-Sentinel Editor Earl Maucker gave a virtuoso performance in his Op-Ed column last Sunday when he attempted to answer the question: “How has the Internet affected the newspaper business?”

This, of course, is like asking an abbot how Gutenberg’s printing press was affecting his monks’ life-long efforts to hand-copy the Holy Writ onto parchment.

Which is why, at the very least, Earl’s answer should have been a sober and thoughtful one.

Which it wasn’t, given how Earl’s opined:

“Instead of focusing primarily on the written word, along with photographs and graphics as seen in our traditional printed products (sic/gag), we now offer a wide array of video, animated graphics and detailed data bases online to accompany our stories” via the Internet.

And “these innovative ways of story telling are just beginning,” Earl promises.

At best, Earl’s logic smacks of Deus Ex Machina.

At worst, it’s like a man cranking up the air conditioner in response to his burning-down house.

The problem?

As is often the case with Earl’s Sunday Sermons, he’s being less than honest with his readers.

True, the Internet has “affected the newspaper business,” as Earl observes. Just as television did before.

But this hardly explains how and why the Sun-Sentinel and the Miami Herald are among the fastest-shrinking newspapers in the nation.

During the most recent six months, the Audit Bureau of Circulation (which monitors this data for the newspaper industry) revealed the Sun-Sentinel lost more than 20,000

daily subscribers – while the Herald lost some 15,000.

Which is more of a mass exodus than a mere loss. Especially when you compare the daily circulation declines for major newspapers outside the Dade-Broward market area.

-- Sun-Sentinel – down 10.0%%
-- Miami Herald – down 5.6%
-- Tampa Tribune – down 4.3%
-- Palm Beach Post – down 3.4%
-- Florida Times Union – down 2.2%
-- Orland Sentinel – down 1.7%
-- St. Petersburg Times – down 0.4%

Now what boggles and vexes is that the five major newspapers outside of Miami-Dade and Broward face the same basic woes as the Sun-Sentinel and the Herald, including:

-- The Internet
-- Cable television
-- And a growing number of disinterested younger readers devoid of the newspaper “habit.”

So.

What’s up with the two dailies in Florida’s largest urban counties?

Basically, the answer lies in the cataclysmic demographic changes that first slammed Miami-Dade and now Broward.

Which, as Earl damn well knows, is the bitter bottom line for his newspaper’s woes.

Market-wise, Broward is morphing into what Miami-Dade already is – a growing wasteland of low income households interspersed with pockets of upward mobility affluence.

Suck-wise, the latest cruel data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey paints a dark demographic portrait of Broward as a viable mass media market.

In 2005, the U.S. Census Bureau reported Broward had:

-- Some 439,700 households with school age children.
-- But 56% of those living in these households chose not to speak English to their loved ones at home.
-- Once more, 63% of these Non English speaking households were struggling to survive in sub-poverty.

Trend-wise, the numbers are worse.

Between 2000 and 2005, the Census Bureau found Broward’s:

-- Non Hispanic White population declined 7%
-- Non Hispanic Black population increased 24%
-- Hispanic population increased 40%.

All of which is bad news for any newspaper as a traditionally American mass medium.

And then there’s the harsh reality of the per capita annual income for Broward’s diverse groups

-- $34,279 per year for an Non Hispanic White

-- $20,688 for an Hispanic

-- $15,813 for a Non Hispanic Black.

All of which means folks with the lowest low incomes represent nt the fastest-growing segment of Broward’s population.

Oh yes.

More than one out of every three Broward residents was born in a foreign country – where most folk have neither time for, nor trust in their local print media.

Of Broward’s exploding population of strangers in a strange land:

-- 31% of the Non Hispanic Whites were foreign born (271,660).
-- 39% of the Non Hispanic Blacks (161,055)
-- 54% of the Hispanics (207,849)

Add up all these Census Bureau numbers and you’ll be hard pressed to find many foreign-born newcomers willing to buy the Sun-Sentinel in response to the Help Team’s Quixotic crusade for better street signs.

Nor are many of these low income foreign-born immigrants likely to find any compelling magic in the Sun-Sentinel’s new and improved whiz bang Web page.

And God alone knows the sort of advertiser who will pay cash money to reach Broward’s mushrooming population of foreign born non-consumers living in sub-poverty.

In summation: As the Tribune Company’s once prized cash cow, the Sun-Sentinel is going skinny and dry

As for Earl?

You have to hand it to the man for his blind faith in the Internet as an electronic Deus Ex Machina for Broward’s woes as an emerging Third World Market. Especially given Earl’s on-going talent as a virtuoso whistling in the dark.


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