Alan Weiss’s Monday Morning Memo® – 2/27/2023
Overall, 2,500 newspapers in the United States—a quarter of them—have closed since 2005 (Wikipedia). Over 360 closed since just before the start of the pandemic, but that was also the pace prior to the pandemic. If auto advertising were to suddenly disappear or seriously attenuate, most of the rest would probably vanish.
Our local daily, the Providence Journal, is very thin, was taken over by one of the huge holding companies (New Media Investment Group), and runs two full pages of huge obituaries because they charge $200-$400 apiece for them! There is scant investigative reporting, and a lot of wire service reprints.
Local dailies and weeklies have provided readers with the pragmatic news for their lives, the stuff that’s not blaring on TV nor distorted on the internet: school board meetings, visiting entertainment, Eagle Scouts, library events, local police reports, road closings, local sports results, and so forth.
Ukraine, climate change, immigration, abortion—they’re important and are constantly in our face from special interest groups, politicians, and the media trying to gain ratings. But pragmatically and daily, our lives are much more affected by new tax proposals, local support groups, and proposed housing developments.
Gannett and the other huge chains have gobbled up many of these newspapers and further weakened them by cutting costs and resources, and others have simply folded. One problem is the horrific history of newspaper management, which held aloft the defense of the First Amendment while treating employees and investment in the future as non-issues. I don’t think the demise of newspapers was inevitable because of the threat of technology—many more people purchase hard copy books today than electronic ones, despite the dire predictions about the death of conventional books—but I do think that the profession/industry has been far too complacent for too long.
And that now hurts us all.
Postscript: I’m the only non-journalist to ever receive the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Press Institute, and one of only eight such recipients in total over decades. Several years ago the API itself folded because the newspapers supporting it (the aforementioned Providence Journal was a founding partner) refused to continue to pay for that support. The API’s historic main role: To train and educate newspaper managers and journalists at all levels to improve their skills.
My father was born in the year 1900 in South Carolina, and he grew up at a time where being an African-American child in the American South was to be deprived of access to anything close to a reasonable education. He only had three years of formal education, but he was self-taught. He read two newspapers a day. —Kenneth Frazier
From the beginning on, newspapers have prospered for one reason: giving readers the news that they want. —Rupert Murdoch
Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. —Thomas Jefferson