Last week, The Plain Dealer announced that they were laying off another third of their workforce. Both Gannett and McClatchy, which own hundreds of newspapers throughout the country, have also announced layoffs and buyouts. Another hedge-fund-backed bidder wants to buy Gannett and will, undoubtedly, ax even more.
Most of the newspapers around here and elsewhere are now owned by such soulless hedge fund-backed entities these days. My guess is that this trend will continue until all the blood is sucked out of them and there is nothing left of their reputation; then, the investors will lose interest and many communities will be left without a newspaper.
Newspapers big and small have closed in unprecedented numbers. Americans increasingly get their news from nationally-televised partisan programs. It is a vicious circle. So much so, that a survey I read recently showed that many Americans now think of “local news” as “TV.” Most of those (70 percent) mostly just watch the weather. Sounds like my wife! People like to have a broadcaster tell them whether it is raining, I guess. Personally, I check weather all day long on my phone, including radar – but then again, I operate a farm and it is part of my daily life.
Another survey recently found that only 14 percent of Americans have paid for local news of any kind — print, digital, anything — in the past year. Of those who don’t, 49 percent say it is because they can find plenty of free local news. I guess being a free newspaper publisher makes me guilty of contributing to that. Just like Google and Facebook but without as much money, unfortunately.
Yet another study found newspaper closures are linked to partisanship. There are many reasons for the rise of partisanship, but the loss of local newspapers is increasing and being shown to be a big factor. As local newspapers disappear, citizens increasingly rely on national sources of political information. Local newspapers, by contrast, serve as a central source of shared information with a common community agenda.
Polarization will continue unless local news makes a comeback. There are many ongoing active experiments with various novel business models, including online-only, which is failing. They just can’t get enough advertising to cover the costs of labor, so they are forced to sell spooky non-local ads that are mostly scams and data stealers. Those advertisers pay by clicks so the website is rewarded for tricking you into clicking on things with misleading headlines and attention grabbers.
That is the opposite of what newspapers should be doing. The Post has never accepted such non-local ads and has no intention of doing so. The main value is that a newspaper has is its credibility over all this social media junk and fake news.
Obviously, this bothers me, but my family and I have skin in the game. Does it bother you? Should it? That is the The Post online reader poll question for the week. Are you concerned about the decline of local newspapers?
Our poll goes up from Tuesday to Tuesday, one day before we go to press. Early results have 48 percent of our readers voting, “Yes, it will further destroy our sense of community.” Another 16 percent also believe that it will lead to the break down our political system. I agree with both of those notions, wholeheartedly.
The second most popular answer, a frank one, shows 22.7 percent saying, “No, the digital social networks can provide me with all the information I need.” Then there are the 13.3 percent that apparently enjoy dancing on the grave of newspapers voting, “No, local newspapers deserve to die – good riddance.” Interesting that they went to our newspaper website to vote, just saying...
The problem isn’t just with the paid dailies. Local media outlets like this one, the ones that tell you what’s happening at your kids’ school or the zoning board, are also in trouble. Many lost their most valuable revenue stream many years ago – advertising – and, since then, have been shrinking or folding altogether.
Fortunately, The Post continues to draw considerable advertising support, more than about any newspaper around. But it is getting harder and harder to do. Not only do businesses have more digital options than they used to, but there also aren’t as many independent businesses left. Amazon, Walmart, CVS, etc. did away with many of them.
Our mission here at The Post is to work around these problems and continue to serve our local communities like we have done for the past 44 years. We have had to continually readjust, like most businesses have to do, but so far, at least we succeeded.
We continue to develop our digital as a complement to our print, but are still committed to being a free local newspaper. Please support our loyal advertisers that have allowed us to be one of the survivors!