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US Newspapers Seek Ways to Rewrite the Sad Story of Their Business

The recession has intensified problems facing the industry. Seattle's Post-Intelligencer became the first major paper to go Web-only, but cut most of its newsroom jobs. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has become America's first major daily newspaper to publish online-only. Hearst, the company that owns it, printed the final newspaper on Tuesday. The Seattle P-I was one hundred forty-six years old -- the oldest daily newspaper in Washington state.

One hundred seventy people worked in the newsroom. Now just twenty journalists will work for The city is left with one major local daily, the Seattle Times. Some people think it could also go online-only.

Denver, Colorado, became a one-newspaper city a few weeks ago: the Rocky Mountain News closed. Other cities could soon follow.

Mike Simonton is a media analyst at Fitch Ratings. He believes many two-newspaper markets will not survive through the end of next year. By that time, he says, there could even be some markets with no printed local paper each day.

Newspaper companies like Hearst, he says, are experimenting with new business models to see what works. But he says any new product will have to be different enough that people will not be able to find it anywhere else.

Some newspaper companies have recently sought bankruptcy protection. These include the Tribune Company, owner of the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times, among others.

Newspapers earn most of their money from sales of advertising. But a lot of that market has moved to free or low-cost advertising on the Internet, including sites like Craigslist. Losses have only been intensified by the recession.

Ad sales have always gone up and down with the economy. But one difference this time is that many newspaper companies are heavily in debt from buying other newspapers.

Papers are cutting costs. Gannett, the nation's largest newspaper publisher, has cut more than one-fifth of its jobs in the past two years. More than eight thousand jobs have been lost.

In Detroit, Michigan, the two big dailies are reducing home delivery to three days a week. In Ohio, the state's largest papers still compete but now share stories.

Newspapers have lost millions of readers as a new generation has grown up. Yet much of the news that people get online still comes from newspapers. Most papers give it away free on their own sites. The Wall Street Journal is one of the few that charge for its online version.

Last month bloggers celebrated what they called a historic moment. President Obama, at his first major press conference, called on a reporter for a Web-only operation, the Huffington Post.

The United States Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and the press. But as budgets shrink, newspapers are printing fewer pages, less news. They have fewer reporters not just in foreign capitals, but even in Washington.

Industry observers say quality reporting is being lost. The question now is to what extent it will find a new home on the Internet.

And that's IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English, written by Brianna Blake. I'm Steve Ember.