A Perfect Storm
Retired newspaper publisher Carrol Dadisman sat down with 850 Magazine to discuss the state of the newspaper business today – and what any business can learn from its challenges. By Rosanne Dunkelberger A Perfect StormCarrol Dadisman – retired publisher of the Tallahassee Democrat – reflects on the future of newsprint.
By Rosanne Dunkelberger
A Georgia native and a graduate of the University of Georgia with a journalism degree, Carrol Dadisman began his career as a newspaper reporter in the mid- 1950s. He quickly moved into management positions at Georgia newspapers in Macon and Columbus and came to the Tallahassee Democrat, serving as its publisher for 16 years, from 1981 until his retirement in 1997.
He was popular and successful in that role, earning the Knight Ridder top management award three years running. In retirement, Dadisman has traveled to Russia and Eastern Europe on consulting missions and was the founding president of the Community Foundation of North Florida, a nonprofit organization that promotes and facilitates long-term charitable giving.
In between his thrice-weekly tennis matches (he plays at the 4.0 level), the tall, genial and deep-voiced retiree sat down with 850 Magazine to discuss the state of the newspaper business today – and what any business can learn from its challenges.
850: Did you foresee the business turning out the way it has, or how the profession would evolve?
CD: I don’t think any of us in the business have been very good at predicting the future, and we still aren’t. We said, “We’ve survived television, we can survive the Internet too.” But a lot of other things going on now affect the economy of newspapers. Some people describe it as the “perfect storm,” with the combination of Internet taking readers away from newspapers, but you also have the factor of what’s happening in advertising. When we were doing so well, we were getting most of our revenue – 70 to 80 percent – from advertising. The Internet has hurt us there with Craigslist, but at the same time look at what’s happened to the retail industry. There’s been so much consolidation. You don’t have nearly the retail dollars coming in, and you don’t have advertising to give bulk to your newspaper.
850: Are newspapers at the point of change or die – or are they going to die anyway?
CD: Clearly they have to change or die. I’m optimistic. People may not like the fact that the (Tallahassee) Democrat doesn’t have much national or international news anymore, but they’re doing a smart thing. Local news is what we have to sell, and so the emphasis on local is what will enable the Democrat to continue for a long time.
850: Do you think the heyday of journalism is over?
CD: I hope not. Particularly, we should be concerned about what happens to investigative reporting if newspapers go away. Most of the major stories that are dug out and not just on the surface are things newspaper reporters have found. You may hear about them first on the Internet or on television, but they mostly originate with The New York Times or The Washington Post or the L.A. Times or AP or The Wall Street Journal.
850: Although they’re downsizing and making deep cuts, in reality, most newspapers are still profitable. Is corporate ownership ruining newspapers?
CD: You can take that and make an argument that newspapers would have been better if they remained private, but anyone would agree that Knight Ridder and all of those companies made great improvements to the papers they were buying in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. I don’t know that you can say newspapers would be better off with local, private owners, because the private owners wanted to make big profits too – and a lot of times those publishers didn’t know what good journalism is.
850: Magazines don’t seem to be suffering as much as newspapers.
CD: The magazine industry, it seems to me, is pretty healthy, but it’s healthy because it’s specialized. It may be that newspapers have to be less everything to everybody and more specialized. I think another encouraging thing is magazines still are popular – and books. People haven’t stopped reading the printed product.