Some good, some bad news ahead for your local news


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“The decade-long devastation of the print news business, crushed by the sagging economy, the evaporation of classified and display advertising, and a reader shift to digital media, has cost at least 54,200 newsroom jobs in newspapers and magazines alone, according to Pew Research.”

That quote from the Washington Examiner this past June delivered with even more punch what has long been known: There are fewer — far fewer — reporting feet on the street. The Examiner article underscored that the findings from Pew suggest even more journalism jobs have been lost in the past decade than previously estimated.

That news gives us cause to drill a bit deeper into the state of newspaper journalism today. There are two fronts — one discouraging, the other promising — to watch in the months ahead.

First the bad news. While the progressive loss of newspaper newsroom jobs grabbed significant headlines a few years ago, accentuated by the creation of insider blogs and frequent updates in the trade publications, those headlines have faded considerably, particularly as publishers and corporate owners became more adept at quietly laying off their journalists with little fanfare. But don’t be fooled. The downsizing continues, though not as high on the radar as it once was, as digital-driven advertising still struggles to compensate for losses on the print advertising side. The volume of reporting power on the street, particularly at smaller news outlets, is dangerously low, compelling editors to rely more and more on “submitted” content from the community, social media-roused coverage across platforms and more routine stories to fill diminishing space in print as opposed to more in-depth coverage.

Newsrooms now simply can’t stick with developing stories and critical issues that need daily attention as they once did.

On the positive side, the Edward Snowden revelations about NSA surveillance of Americans has surged interest once again in the watchdog role the media plays. Whether you agree or disagree with Snowden’s actions, those actions have recharged the debate over access to data, privacy issues and new thinking about how to mine data online for public good.

We expect we’ll see more young journalists at all levels endeavoring down these paths.

Hipster Hotels finding their groove; can the chains be far behind?

You can take the hipster out of Williamsburg, but, be assured, the hipster will not check into a Hampton Inn.

Hotels catering to the uber-trendy hipster crowd are popping up from big cities to remote destinations. It’s a demographic that demands  “authenticity” — think vintage vs. disposable, vinyl vs. digital — and they’re seeking accommodations to match that mind-set. They want their breakfast sustainable, their cocktails handcrafted, and their get-aways just the right degree of obscure.

And for hoteliers who understand them, opportunities abound.

Some have capitalized on the hipster fascination with all things quirky. Kate Pierson of the B52s and her partner, Monica Coleman, own two properties: Kate’s Lazy Meadow in New York’s Catskill Mountains, and Kate’s Lazy Desert, near Palm Springs, Ca. The kitsch factor is high — the Catskill cabins boast 1950s-style kitchens and “groovy” furnishings; in California guests stay in themed Airstream trailers with names like “Tiki” and “Lava”  — and perfectly in keeping with the unconventional vibe hipsters demand.

Hipsters also appreciate a little luxe, and properties like the Bowery House in lower Manhattan satisfy with extra-comfy bedding, original artwork by up-and-comers, and bunk beds because, well, bunk beds are trending up. And for those opposed to the carbon footprint a taxi ride inflicts on the planet, they have bicycles. (Dutch, obviously.)

Since the hipster ethos compels them to seek out the independently owned, they look for the same in a hotel. But like Ray Bans and skinny jeans, the hipster sensibility will likely make its way into hospitality’s mainstream.

So might we soon be able to get a complimentary cold-brew coffee in the lobby of our favorite chain hotel? Perhaps. But by then, the hipsters will certainly be sipping something else.

Extended families: Old trend more trendy

If you have relatives and a spare bedroom, there’s an increasing likelihood that one of them will want to move into it.

A sluggish economy means adults on both ends of the age spectrum are looking to live with the generation at its center. It’s not a new trend, but it is a trend that’s strengthening. Adult kids are moving back in with their parents and elderly parents are moving back in with their grown children at ever-increasing rates. And though millennials and senior citizens have little in common, members of both groups are finding it impossible to afford their own place.

For adults under 30, high rents, underemployment and staggering student debt are often blamed for the boomerang effect. Some return right after college; others move back after an attempt at independence flatlines.

For older adults — those age 30 to about 50 — the financial devastation of divorce, job loss and underemployment are pushing them back into their childhood homes, sometimes with their own kids in tow.

Meanwhile, the economy has been particularly brutal to aging adults, and, according to the American Association for Retired Persons, some 4.6 million seniors were living with their adult kids in 2011, up nearly 14 percent from 2008. Some find it impossible to survive on Social Security, others, blessed with a long life, are outliving their savings.

High health and long-term-care costs, stagnant home values and retirement portfolios injured by the Great Recession mean even well-laid financial plans can fail aging adults, and those still able to work face the same bleak employment prospects as their grandchildren.

And as the economy continues to stumble along, the multi-generational family household will become a more and more familiar one.

Boomer Entrepreneurism 2.0: A trend with sustained traction

Many of them are old enough to collect Social Security and score a break on the price of a movie ticket, but that doesn’t mean they’re ready for the rocking chair. Baby boomers — those born between the years 1946 and 1964 — are taking a pass on retirement and starting their own businesses at impressive rates.

While overall entrepreneurship in the US is down, it’s on the rise amongst boomers who, in 2012, represented 23 percent of all entrepreneurs, up from 14 percent in 1996, according to the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, which studies entrepreneurship.

Boomers are living longer, healthier lives, and the old idea of a restful retirement — and its expanse of empty days — lacks appeal. They’re ready for an “encore career,” so they’re fulfilling their dreams and opening bookshops, candy stores, wineries and yoga studios. Others, compelled by the boomer desire do good, are launching nonprofits like animal shelters, cultural organizations and other altruistic ventures.

And they’re perfectly positioned. Boomers, having been in the workforce for decades, have the experience, the professional contacts, the resources and, in the case of empty-nesters, the personal freedom to strike out on their own. They’re coming to the realization, too, that time is finite, and if you’re gonna do something, now is the time to do it.

For some, though, entrepreneurship is less about dreams and more about harsh reality: Age 50 to about 69, boomers find themselves up against far younger candidates in a cutthroat job market. Becoming one’s own boss, for some, can be the on
ly option.

Pop-up stores showing up in malls could signal the centers’ doom

The Gap. H&M. Forever 21.

These could be the storefronts lining the main corridor of any shopping mall. But then again, maybe where a Borders once was, some guy is selling patio furniture two months a year.

Pop-up stores — retailers who suddenly fill a mall vacancy, often hawking off-brand or unexpected merchandise — are, well, popping up everywhere. They sell boats and Buddhas and Halloween costumes, and they’re all capitalizing on landlords’ desperate need to fill empty space.

For that guy selling patio furniture, this trend is a good one. He gets a deep discount on month-to-month rent and access to a captive audience of shoppers. Sure, he doesn’t have the protection of a lease, but he probably doesn’t want to make a commitment anyway. That patio guy is also, very likely, the mall’s only offer on an otherwise empty dance card, because there’s no long-term, full-rent tenant on the horizon. So the mall cuts its losses and fills the space.

Shopping centers depend on the long-term lease — often a decade or more — to stay robust even as the economy fluctuates. And there were always retailers waiting in the wings, eager to sign when space opened up.

No more. The Internet continues to lure shoppers away from brick-and-mortar, and mall vacancy rates are on the rise. Add to that a sustained stagnant economy that has hit the middle class hard, and it becomes more likely, as we have predicted, that the future of malls is a troubled one. When retailers like Circuit City abandon storefronts, the cavity can stay dark for months. Still worse for landlords, remaining tenants may have a depletion clause in their leases, so their rent goes down when mall occupancy dips.

So the Christmas shops and the cash-for-gold dealers appear, and like ghosts in a Shakespearean play, they are seldom a good sign.

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