For the past five years, I have photographed with unrestricted access the newsroom and printing plant of The Philadelphia Inquirer. Through a depiction of The Inquirer’s efforts to prevail despite depleted ad revenue, a steady decline in circulation, lay-offs, buy-outs, and bankruptcy, my intent is to reveal the challenges and harsh realities that face the newspaper industry today.
A close examination of the newspaper industry and an in-depth story explaining the events that landed newsrooms in their current predicaments has largely gone untold. Having shed 30% of their workforce in the past decade, newspapers are America’s fastest shrinking industry—yet more than half of American adults know little or nothing about the financial struggles that have eviscerated newsrooms. Across the nation, papers have lost $25 billion in advertising revenue over the past ten years. This, at a time when a third of U.S. adults get their news on Facebook. In 2012, newspapers lost $16 in print ad revenue for every $1 made in digital ad revenue. In other words, newspapers’ transition into a digital era has been mired in a dire hunt for sustainable online advertising revenue, with mixed (or little) success.
Today, we find ourselves amidst a massive societal transition into an information economy. Technological advances have boosted productivity while eroding middle-skill, middle-class jobs and reducing the labor force everywhere. What has been the human cost of these gains?
For centuries, newspapers have served as a cornerstone of American society. They have held our country’s institutions, CEOs, politicians and big businesses accountable for their actions. They have safeguarded the values, laws and morals that our democracy was founded upon. When we lose reporters, editors, newsbeats and sections of the paper, we lose coverage, information, and a connection to our cities and our society. In the end, we begin to lose ourselves. Without a human investment in our news content, it all becomes a zero sum game on the information super-highway to nowhere. The fibers of the paper and the clicks of the mouse are worthless unless the words through which they are communicated have value. The newspaper is much more than a business—it is a civic trust.