There's no question the auto industry-particularly the US auto industry-is currently in the toilet. There's also no question that bad times for the auto industry lead to cuts in car companies' advertising budgets, which hurts the print and broadcast media outlets that reap billions from automakers every year. That's not news to anybody. What is news is the revelation that prospects for the print media have grown so dim that they are now celebrating the fact of declining auto ads, as proof that they're at the mercy of temporary business cycles beyond their control. Wow, that's sad: Newspapers nationwide lost more than $130 million last year in auto ad sales. Car ads have gone from 10% of national newspaper ads, to less that 3% in just three years. That's terrible by any standards. Magazines are experiencing a similar decline. So how to put this disaster in a good light?

Amid this gloom is actually good news for traditional media because the effects of the auto downturn suggest that the impact of the Internet on the business models of newspapers, magazines and broadcast television is being exacerbated by more cyclical forces. And cycles turn. "If the economy were better, newspapers would be better, and we'd be having a slightly different conversation," said Mr. Goldstrom, of the newspaper association.

If the economy were better, we'd be having a different conversation! And if newspapers were printed on $100 bills they would be more popular. Print media has come to realize that the internet represents a fundamental shift in their business model, not some temporary cycle. But they're clinging to the hope that the auto industry, of all things, is in a mere momentary slump. The auto industry is not in a momentary slump! Gas prices, global warming, etc. (Insert standard explanation here). GM was once one of the mightiest companies on earth. Now it can't pay its dental insurance. Besides this vague, unfounded optimism that things will turn around, there's not a shred of evidence in the story (even from marketing execs) that anyone is actually counting on car ads coming back to their earlier levels. Maybe when they invent viable electric cars, in 20 years or so. Until then: you newspapers better find someone else to sell to. [NYT]