Doomsayers proclaim that the newspaper business is dying, as readers get older and youngsters fail to pick up the newspaper habit. But Doug McCorkindale sees it differently. Next month the 34-year veteran of Gannett Co. steps down as CEO; he remains chairman for another year. Reflecting on his long involvement with the nation's largest newspaper publisher (which owns more than 100 dailies, including flagship USA Today), McCorkindale spoke with TIME's BARBARA KIVIAT about the prospects of a company that gets 68% of its revenue from newspaper ads and 18% from paid circulation.
Recent industry numbers show newspaper circulation down 2% year over year. That doesn't sound promising.
You have to put those numbers in focus. Unfortunately, a few of our friends in the industry had some circulation issues, and I think they were very conservative in their accounting [this time around] so that they didn't have anything come back to haunt them. If you look at Gannett's numbers, we are not down anything, like a lot of the folks in the industry. And in fact USA Today, which just raised its cover price from 50¢ to 75¢, actually had a positive circulation for the period ending in April. Having said that, there is no doubt that paid circulation has been declining in a very gradual way over the past decade or so.
How are you going to attract and keep younger readers?
Our game plan is to deliver information to people when they want it and how they want it. If that's in print, O.K. If they want to go on the website and get the news, that's O.K. too. Every single Gannett newspaper and television station has a website. And young people do read print if you take a traditional Gannett medium-size-market newspaper and you package the same information but in a way that younger people want to see it--shorter stories, more graphics, easy maneuverability. We have young-people publications in places like Cincinnati [Ohio], Indianapolis [Ind.] and Boise [Idaho]. They're tabloid size, [free] and ahead of our plans in terms of profitability. The world is not coming to an end. [The industry] is more competitive than it was in 1975, but this nonsense that young people don't read is simply wrong.
Have you ever thought about launching a completely online newspaper?
We have looked at that. We haven't been able to figure out if it makes economic sense. There are a lot of things you can do with technology, but whether it's a business is a separate question. There was a cartoon, I think in the New Yorker magazine, of two young computer geeks, and one was holding a newspaper, and he turned to the other and said, "Look at this new invention. Somebody has downloaded the whole page into a user-friendly format." It's a wonderful cartoon.
I'm not sure you should be laughing at that.
Well, it's fun. What a newsroom does is gather information and package it. You press the button on the right, it goes on dead trees. You press the button on the left, now that everything is digitized, it goes out on the Internet. The economics are such that we're still getting most of our money from the old-line print, but we're getting dramatic increases on the Internet side.
How much is online advertising growing?