GREENWICH — Recent years for the newspaper industry have been difficult, but challenges facing print journalism can be overcome with hard work and investment in the newsroom.
That was the report given to an audience at the Retired Men’s Association of Greenwich Wednesday by Lincoln Millstein, senior vice president and special assistant to the CEO for Hearst, parent company of Greenwich Time.
“Newspapers have faced challenges almost throughout their history,” said Millstein, who lives in Old Greenwich. “Whether it’s the afternoon papers folding because of demographic change or classified ads versus display ads and the penny press. They were very competitive and a lot of newspapers failed. It’s an industry that’s quite accustomed to challenges.”
With that in mind, Millstein — who has worked for the New York Times, Hartford Courant and Boston Globe, and co-founded the latter’s website in 1995 — said he can’t understand why the newspaper industry as a whole “panicked” when the Internet came to prominence in the 1990s. The industry reacted to the emergence of digital media differently than to any previous challenge, he said, recalling “dark and gloomy stories” about how print journalism was dying.
“It is the only industry I know of that publicly disparages its own core product,” Millstein said.
He compared the response to that of the television news industry, pointing out that the days of Walter Cronkite anchoring the “CBS Evening News” with a 50 percent share of the audience are long gone.
“Today in the nightly news if they’re able to get a 10 percent share it’s considered phenomenal,” Millstein said. “But you never saw Tom Brokaw get on TV and say, ‘Oh, by the way, last year we lost a million viewers.’ Only newspapers do that.”
Newspapers’ pessimism sent a message to advertisers, potentially making their challenges worse, he said, and making it harder to dig out of the 2008 recession, which caused a larger decline in newspaper advertising than in other media.
But Hearst had an advantage over other companies such as Gannett or McClatchy, Millstein said. As a private company that is not publicly traded, Hearst was able to take a longer view and “invest in journalism” by growing its newspaper division.
With the recent purchase of the New Haven Register properties, Hearst has eight dailies in Connecticut and many weeklies.
“You’re paying us to do one job, find out stuff that you can’t find out on your own that’s important to you and important to your community so you can make decisions like going to the polls on Nov. 7,” Millstein said. “What we’re finding out is that there are people willing to pay for that and they’re willing to pay us quite a bit for that journalism. We need to do a better job and more of that. I believe in communities like Greenwich we will sustain ourselves for quite a long time if we’re committed to that.”
Millstein said work is underway to improve the digital experience of Hearst papers such as Greenwich Time, but added interest in print editions of newspapers remains strong. While he spends his commute on the train reading the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and his local paper on his phone, he still reads the hard copies of the newspapers when he arrives in the office, he said.
“Every single day I miss something on my phone,” Millstein said. “I don’t know if you have the same experience but I can’t be assured that I read everything.”
Millstein’s speech was part of the ongoing Greenwich Reads Together program put together by Greenwich Library. Each year one book is chosen for the community to read and events are held throughout town to explore its themes. The 2017 selection is “News of the World,” an acclaimed historical novel by Paulette Jiles, which tells the story of a Civil War veteran who carries newspapers from all over the globe to remote portions of Texas to bring news to people starving for information.
Events will continue to take place for the next few weeks, including an appearance by Jiles, who will speak at Greenwich Library on Nov. 14 in an event open to the public.
Millstein praised the book, and recommended people interested in it also read “Empire of the Summer Moon” by S.C. Gwynne.
By Ken Borsuk
Published October 25, 2017
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