Daily newspapers folding all around – And nobody cares?

13. March 2009 – 13:20 by Bengt Feil

Over the course of the last weeks and months we heard a lot about major newspapers starting to go online only or shutting down their operations altogether. The Rocky Mountain News´s last issue appeared on February 27th 2009 and the San Francisco Chronicle is also in a very unstable position. Both of these papers had a long tradition and wide distribution but suffered under the changes of news consumption and increasing production costs. It seems as if we are witnessing a major change in the news landscape. But which consequences will these changes have?

According to a recent study done by the PewResearchCenter “many Americans wouldn’t care a lot if local papers folded”. Not even half of them (43%) think that “losing their local newspaper would hurt civic life in their community a lot”. So maybe the death of the local paper is no big problem. We already gather a lot of our daily news using online and mobile sources which get their information from the major news agencies like AP or Reuters. This is also reflected in the study. On the other hand this is not true if one looks at local news which is not covered by the major agencies. 30% think that civic life would be hurt “a lot” when local papers fold especially because of the loose of these local news items. Following this though the real question has to be: How can we make sure that local news will still be accessible in a world without small local papers?

Alternative news sources are developing right now. There are blogs by local citizens and other sources of so called citizen journalism. There is a constant stream of information from locales in different social media channels like Twitter, Flickr and so on. But can these tools completely replace the work of a dedicated journalist focussed on a certain geographic area? I think this question cannot be answered today as we are in the middle of this transition.

As stated above some daily papers see a possibility to survive in stopping the printed version and focussing on their online work. If one considers that printing and delivering is by far the most costly part of producing a daily paper this option seems very viable. Take just this example: Printing and delivering the New York Times to it subscribers for one year costs the company more than it would to just give every subscriber an eBook Reader like the Amazon Kindle and deliver the paper wirelessly onto this device. But the change to be “online first” is very difficult for the papers as online revenue models have to be established. One major question for example is: Should there be paid versions or should revenue just come from ads?

It may be that printed newspaper has seen its times and other forms of delivery (web browsers, ePaper) will take its place. Maybe their will also be a major shift from professional journalism to citizen made news but in the end it is important that citizens can access international, national and local news to be able to take part in the social and political discourse.

What are your thoughts on these developments? Do we need or classic papers or are their days just numbered?

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  1. 5 Responses to “Daily newspapers folding all around – And nobody cares?”

  2. By David Winder on Mar 13, 2009

    Cutting down forests to make newspapers that are thrown away immediately does not make sustainable sense. Destroying key media support for a local community is also senseless. This is not a conflict between paper technologies and digital technologies. Rather it is a business challenge to the newspaper industry to provide their traditional community support without using paper and ink.

    I believe that the readers of this site can think of several possible business solution, I know I have several.

    Perhaps we should consider a new business mantra, “Think local (community support), act local (community technology)”.

    This is not about turning our backs on technology, more about realising that digital technology works just as well across a town as it does across a continent.

  3. By Bengt Feil on Mar 17, 2009

    The Seattle P-I is also going online only: https://www.seattlepi.com/business/403793_piclosure17.html

  4. By Rolf Lührs on Mar 17, 2009

    Another one bites the dust: Hearst Corp. threatens to close SF Chronicle. In that case San Francisco would be the first of the US major cities without an independent daily news paper. In that situation “The
organization, considers to complement their daily
 newspaper (https://www.public-press.org/content/Strategic-Plan-2009-2011).
 The business model relies on a mix of subscribitions and donations, without any commercial adds. Michal Stoll, head of “The Public Press” calculates that 50.000 subcribers willing to pay 100 $ a year would be enough to run the print edition of a locally focussed newspaper. Is that the rescue?

  5. By Simon Smith on Mar 17, 2009

    Local newspapers often effectively had a monopoly on the provision of (written) political information until the Internet era. And dare I say that may have been good for democracy? If you live in a place where there is one dominant source setting the news agenda, and one dominant public channel for political communication, then you share the same public sphere as your co-citizens and you are able to debate the same political issues.

    Now we have a situation in which citizens with Internet access can escape the local monopoly and get their news from a myriad of different sources across the globe. That’s also good for democracy! Citizens can easily access a plurality of political perspectives, and can focus on their particular interests and causes. But it has the downside of fragmenting the public sphere: it’s difficult to debate politics with my neighbour if our agendas have little in common because of the choices we have made in obtaining our political information.

    So there’s a conflict of values: do we value pluralism from an individual perspective? Is it most important that the individual has access to as many different sources as possible, and can personalise their preferred news channels?
    Or do we value pluralism from a community perspective? Is it most important that all members of a community are exposed to the same information about a fairly broad range of subjects, as a precondition for public discourse?

    It seems that economics is making the choice for us - at least in the USA.
    What is the situation in Europe?

  6. By Simon Smith on Mar 25, 2009

    Are European authorities guilty of overlooking the significance of the local and regional press?

    I came across an interesting post to the European Citizens Consultation discussion forum for Slovakia from the chairman of the Slovak Association of Publishers of the Regional Press, Michal Beňadik. In general he wished to praise the Commission for supporting the principle of consulting citizens, but he was concerned that EU institutions’ communications policies are, in his view, biased towards audiovisual media and the Internet.

    Here are some quotations (my translation from Slovak):

    “The regional and local press, in Slovakia at least, enjoy a consistently high level of trust from citizens, and for many they are a decisive source of information.”

    “European institutions need to take steps to improve the informedness of citizens [about the EU and the work of its organs]… but take, for example, the recent 50th anniversary events. The only media that received grants to publicise them were audiovisual media and the Internet.”

    “I see a contradiction between the appeals from European institutions to national, regional and local government that they should support media pluralism and the actual [low] levels of support provided by European institutions to the regional press. Undervaluing certain segments of the media means undervaluing those segments of the population that rely on local and regional newspapers.”

    The full transcript (in Slovak) is here: https://www.konzultacie-europskych-obcanov.eu/debate/2083

    Does he have a point?

    We discussed a related issue during the recent PEP-NET / European eParticipation Study online discussion, where a view emerged, especially from Central European participants, that newspapers actually have a crucial role to play in facilitating eParticipation.
    See: https://www.internet-discourse.eu/demos.php?page=detail&menucontext=7&submenucontext=26&id_viewback=26&id_item=2399&preselect=on&subsubmenucontext=26

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