It’s human nature that we tend to focus on the issues which directly affect us and pay decidedly less attention to circumstances on the periphery.
For those of us in the newspaper business it’s the social media-induced crisis that affects our livelihood.
Fifty years ago, there were 1,748 daily papers in the United States. At last count that number was 1,286, a drop of 462. And that latter figure isn’t discriminatory, it includes everything from major metros to the tiniest circulation daily.
The symptoms are always the same, declining circulation and ad revenue in the face of a market that increasingly relies on television and social media to get its news.
But there are more than newspapers feeling the print media crunch.
And I’ve watched it happen with periodicals, specifically in my case, Sports Illustrated.
I’ve been a subscriber for virtually all of my adult life … one of 2.75 million readers that made it this country’s uncontested most popular sports magazine.
BUT IT’S been impossible to miss the change the last few years.
Sports Illustrated went from weekly to 39 editions annually in 2017 and, a year later, SI officially became a bi-weekly — 26 issues plus four seasonal previews and the ever-hypocritical Swimsuit Edition.
But the clincher came with the last issue in December 2019 when it was announced that Sports Illustrated would become a monthly starting in January … 12 issues plus five special editions including the Swimsuit.
Reportedly, half the staff — 40 employees, 13 from the editorial side — was let go.
Co-editor Steve Cannella, verifying the switch to monthly publication, conceded, “The age of the weekly is over.”
There’s a cautionary tale, of course, that if Sports Illustrated can go from being a highly-popular weekly magazine to once-a-month in a span of less than four years — with two unsuccessful test periods in between — small wonder these are tough times for the print media.
Stories about SI’s travails sometimes mention the “thud factor” or the sound a periodical makes when dropped on a table. In recent years, Sports Illustrated seemed to be more-and-more flimsy with fewer-and-fewer pages.
Many subscribers are quick to pick up on the fact that their newspaper has smaller and considerably less pages.
In the first monthly issue of Sports Illustrated, the Editors’ Letter admits as much, noting, “You’ll see heavier, brighter paper …”
The letter also concedes, “The new SI is no longer the vehicle for news and event recap …”
And it ends with its own version of the tiresome talking point used by struggling businesses to rationalize desperation changes, “Sports Illustrated is a living, breathing, evolving institution always building and growing beyond what it was before.”
Tell that to the 40 employees who were dispatched. To mangle a currently-popular, but inappropriate for a family newspaper phrase, “Don’t dump dishwater on my head and tell me it’s raining.”
IT’S BEEN reported by Yahoo that copy for the next month’s edition must be submitted three weeks in advance, which explains why the current issue lists Carlos Beltran as manager of the Mets.
And enjoy the March edition’s Super Bowl coverage, if there is any, which will hit the newstands Feb. 20, a mere 18 days after the game is played.
As for me, my subscription ends with the January 2021 issue and after all these years, I won’t renew.
Yeah, I love the writing and the in-depth stories are fascinating, but once a month is just not timely enough.
There’s one other thing.
SI showers subscribers with reminders to renew, months before the commitment ends. But they contained nary a word about the impending reduction in issues and there has been no mention of a refund to those of us who renewed for two years or more.
Even more aggravating than that, though, is the way Sports Illustrated announced those three reductions in issues … buried in the Editors’ Letter, almost as if management was so embarrassed it took that disingenuous option hoping readers wouldn’t notice the change.
(Chuck Pollock, a Times Herald senior sports columnist, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)