The Demise of Newspapers Was Their Own Doing (DASM)
Northwestern University, home of the Medill School of Journalism, was cited today in the New York Times in reporting that two newspapers a day are going out of business in the US. This rate existed pre-pandemic and continues post-pandemic. Part of that is large chains, like Gannett, simple closing newspapers that are underperforming as a business decision. Part of that is the fact that newspapers are among the worst run businesses in the world.
I’ve been predicting for several years that there will be three national newspapers: the Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today. They will print local versions for Peoria or Duluth or Austin.
I’m the only non-journalist ever to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the (now extinct) American Press Institute. I’ve had clients that include the New York Times and Los Angeles Times, and more local papers like the Cape Cod Times and the Providence Journal. Newspapers paid poorly and were reliant on journalists and others who simply loved the work.
But defending the First Amendment as the Holy Grail doesn’t excuse sloppy management, avaricious management, and tone-deaf management. Advertising revenues and editorial opinion increasing crept into news reports to the extent that objectivity was serious compromised. (The New York Times: “All the news that [we see] fit to print.”] A newspaper would be very loath to print a negative investigative piece on its large automotive or arts advertisers. (If auto advertising disappeared we’d probably see 50 newspapers close every day.)
I haven’t mentioned the internet and competitive news sources because that hasn’t been their main problem. The problem has been dumb ass, stupid management. And we’re not going to be better served or better informed with just a few corporate giants.
I think the future is in local newspapers. People are more concerned about the school board and street repair, electric rates and their kids’ athletic and scholastic triumphs, than they are about Biden at a NATO meeting or more Congressional bloviation. Wild turkeys on Main Street turn out to be more interesting than wild ideas from over the horizon.