Tuesday, August 11, 2009

New York Times Magazine Looks at the Implications of a 'Big City Without a Newspaper"

In an interesting article in the New York Times Magazine, "What’s a Big City Without a Newspaper?"a former Philadelphia reporter, Michael Sokolove, makes good points, including:

  • The parent company of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia News, Philadelphia Media Partners, has declared bankruptcy, and if agreements can't be reached, both papers may fold, leaving Philadelphia without a daily newspaper.
  • Alberto Ibarguen, president of the Knight Foundation, said "It's going to happen somewhere" that a major city will lose its daily newspaper.
  • According to Brian Tierney, now head of Philadelphia Media Partners and formerly "the city’s most prominent public-relations executive," the two papers have "been operating at a profit, if you exclude debt obligations...." even after substantial drops in paid circulation. That "holds out the promise that print journalism without excessive debt, in Philadelphia and elsewhere, may be sustainable, if not an overly lucrative, business."
  • Tierney told the Times, "he thinks the industry shares too much bad news about itself — 'The audience for TV news is tanking, but do you ever hear them talk about that?'" I think he's right about that, by the way.
  • What's broken, Sokolove says, is not journalism. "Journalists still know how to gather news. And the Internet is a step forward in disseminating it. What's broken is the pipeline that sends money back to where the content is created." Another point of what's not broken: people still want news; they just don't need it in print format.
  • Interesting, smaller papers, with circulations of 50,000 or less, are doing fine -- not great, not horrible. That supports a prediction we made about the need for local media will continue.
While the article doesn't truly look at life in a major city after it loses its major paper, it is worth reading.

One point not in the article I think is worth making: For much of the 20th century, there were lots of newspapers in major cities. At one time, New York, Boston and Philadelphia had a dozen papers each -- not community ethnic weeklies, but regular, mainstream morning and evening papers. Then we got consolidation, down to two papers in those markets (or one in smaller markets).

Some are suggesting the alternative is all the local bloggers out there. And the complaint is that there are too many of them, leading to a very fragmented, hard-to-reach media environment. That's certainly true. But I wonder if that's not analgous to the dozens of different papers, and that over the next decade, we'll see consolidation among local bloggers, too.

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