El Paso’s print media struggles in a waning news industry


EL PASO — Tom Fenton still recalls the good old days of journalism in this historic border city in the early 1990s when after seven years as editor and publisher of the El Paso Times he saw the daily paper’s Sunday circulation hit 103,000.

Today Fenton is the editor and publisher of El Paso Inc. , a weekly niche publication read mainly by business managers and professionals, which has continued to grow little by little over the years. “I think daily newspapers are forcing themselves to be redefined,” Fenton said. “There’s always going to be a place for a printing product, but the circulations will kind of level out.”

Some say El Paso’s news industry has niches waiting to be filled, but it is still endangered by the economic turmoil threatening print media nowadays because of the losses in print ad sales. The total circulation of daily newspapers has dropped more than 10 million since 2000, according to the Newspaper Association of America.

El Paso news outlets.

El Paso news outlets.

The American Society of News Editors’ annual newsroom census found that 2,400 full-time professional editorial jobs were lost in calendar 2007 and another 5,900 jobs were lost in 2008 bringing total newsroom employment at American daily newspapers down to 46,700 from 56,400 in 2001. Fenton said that this staffing decline along with budget cuts hinders the quality and quantity of coverage.  “You can’t hire as much experienced staff as you would want to anymore,” he said.

Former El Paso Times reporter David Crowder said that 29 years ago, when he first came to work for the daily newspaper, the minimum experience you needed to get the job was five years.  “Now, they are hiring people right out of college,” Crowder said. Also, he said, there are fewer and fewer people in the newsroom and newspapers struggle to maintain the same amount of coverage today they once did with more staff.  Although Crowder still believes nothing replaces a daily newspaper, he said that in the last years the ethics of journalism have been compromised to make profits for the owners. “It used to be that newspapers happened to be business, and now businesses happen to be newspapers,” Crowder said.

The dramatic shift in how people access the news today raises a question about how democracy and the flow of information will interact in the years ahead. A large segment of the population is moving away from traditional news outlets to alternative news sources. Some have been assembled by traditional news organizations delivering information in print, on television and on the radio as well as via the Internet and mobile devices. Others include the thousands of blogs created by journalists, activists and citizens on the Internet. Readers and viewers, especially the younger ones, don’t want to pick up their news in the morning from their doorstep or wait for the dinnertime newscast. They want their up-to-the-minute news on demand, when it works for them.

For instance, electronic media student Adolfo Barraza never reads the El Paso Times, El Diario or watches any local TV newscasts. His news sources are his MSN Today customized Web site, some mock news shows on cable television such as The Colbert Show and YouTube videos.

“The media seem to be very sensationalist, depressing, and I feel they have a lot of power over the collective psyche,” Barraza said. “I’ve seen a lot of panic attacks because of what is reported by the media.”

Former multimedia reporter at El Paso Times Roy Ortega started a blog called Media buzz , in which he updates people on news industry happenings in the city. “We are experiencing a decline in readership. People don’t necessary go out and buy the newspaper anymore,” Ortega said.

He said people today questioned why they would buy the El Paso Times print version if they could get more from the newspaper’s Website.

“The question becomes how the newspaper is going to accept this decline in readership?” Ortega said. As a multimedia reporter, Ortega made sure the El Paso Times Web site was bringing the reader the product with different elements that enrich everyday stories.

“It is very important in modern day media, that a journalist be an expert in all these assets: video, print, audio, and all the things that encompass multimedia,” Ortega said. “Because that’s the way people start accessing more to the newspapers’ Web sites.”

After the El Paso Times asked employees to take one-week unpaid furloughs —a recent trend at media companies such as Gannett and MediaNews Corp—  Ortega was let go along with three other employees in the course of two weeks.

According to the State of the News Media 2009, an annual report from the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism, online advertising revenue, which was growing at 33 percent a year earlier in 2000s, declined in the final three quarters of 2008. Of the $38 billion in advertising the industry was estimated to have drawn in 2008, $3 billion came from online advertising.  About a half of newspaper readers now access the papers online, although the Web produces less than 10 percent of the industry’s revenue.

Sito Negron, editor of NewspaperTree.com , a news Website owned by El Paso Media Group, said they are in a very beneficial position at this moment.  “We started online, and we’ve been growing so we can go on print, and not backwards.”  Newspaper Tree reported about 10,000 daily visits in 2008, with 6,000 subscribers to their weekly e-mail newsletter.

After reporting for almost 30 years at the El Paso Times, Crowder now works as a reporter for Newspaper Tree. “It’s almost like a start up, it’s a new media,” Crowder said.

Negron said there’s room for expansion.  “I think the media scene in El Paso has not saturated yet,” Negron said. “He said that there’s still a lot of room for other niche publications to go on print and online.

The University of Texas at El Paso’s director of student publications Kathleen Flores said the Web site utepprospector.com , which was created with an online publishing technology for colleges and universities, College Publisher, almost two years ago, has allowed the newspaper to have more interaction with students.  “We get to see which topics attract and affect more students, like registration, financial aid and parking among other issues,” Flores said. Flores however questions if El Paso’s market is technologically savvy enough to embrace online advertising.

5 thoughts on “El Paso’s print media struggles in a waning news industry

  1. From the director of Borderzine.com:
    Yes, El Paso definitely needs more outlets for community voices, and not just those of “traditional journalists.” I propose a consortium of local media and community leaders to brainstorm on ways to accomplish this.

  2. uff esta payasita de mujer que se quiere comer al mundo con sus historias sangronas y de mala leche es una mujer muy mamoncita que se cre la divina garza, no cae bien para nada y una lambe profesores para que le den buena calificacion

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