AJC cuts include cities

The news that the Atlanta Journal-Constitution is trimming its newsroom staff  by almost 30 percent is not surprising. A recent report on cnn.com said the newspaper is losing $1 million weekly.

What got my attention the most was that the paper is dropping two key Georgia cities — Athens and Macon — from its delivery area. Athens, about 50 miles from Atlanta’s eastern suburbs, is home to the University of Georgia, whose alumni dominate the Atlanta area. Macon, about 75 miles south of downtown Atlanta, is a fair-sized city with a strong musical heritage. (Little Richard, Otis Redding and the Allman Brothers Band have ties there. The city is home to the Georgia Music Hall of Fame.)

And personally, I feel ties to both cities. I’m a UGA grad, and I worked as a journalist in Macon for years. The Atlanta papers were stiff competitors in those days, and I loved it when I’d occasionally “scoop” the bigger paper.

My purpose is to show that newspapers’ plight is not merely more readers going online. That actually helps the AJC and others. Overall readership, when a paper’s Web site is included, is greater than ever. For now, the papers’ online ad revenue is not enough to cover for losses on the print side.

Those print losses are largely due to circulation and distribution costs. Such things as newsprint, salaries/benefits for pressroom and circulation workers, and gasoline for the delivery trucks are big-ticket items.

I’m not privy to any AJC figures: owner Cox Enterprises is privately held. However, I’ll roll out some other numbers for you.

The 90 newsroom jobs being eliminated from the AJC won’t come close to ending their losses. If the 90 workers are earning an average of, say, $50K yearly, then that removes $4.5 million from the payroll. The $1 million weekly figure, if correct, means the paper is losing $50 million yearly. Obviously, the real problem remains elsewhere in the operation.

Consider more numbers: If the AJC bought, say, a new computer and printer for 300,000 subscribers at $1,500 a pop, that would be an expenditure of some $450 million. But if the paper then eliminated home delivery immediately, I suspect it would only take a few years to recoup its investment.

That’s drastic, and not likely to happen soon, if ever. The economy won’t always be this bad, and new sources of revenue will emerge online.

The trend is clear. Home delivery for newspapers is declining. Hey, even I enjoy it. Box scores and crossword puzzles are wonderful. And I do not have to buy a spyware subscription for my print copy of the AJC, nor to I have to reboot it when it gets an attitude. But I suspect that the print editions that live will become loss leaders for their online operations.

Hey, remember that magazines don’t have to pay for their delivery costs. Economic realities can’t be ignored.


About Steve Burns

I live in the Atlanta area. I also lived for many years in Southern California. I'm into mainstream media, social media, sports, business and politics. I worked for AOL's Patch, but this is my personal blog. I'm on Twitter (@bsteve76), Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and Pinterest. See ya 'round!
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