Cities Losing their Newspapers

San Francisco, Seattle, Denver.  Three cities that have — or are about to — lose a daily newspaper.   The list may grow as large publishers of many city dailies world wide are in financial difficulty. One thing economic downturns are good at is exposing products, companies or industries that are no longer viable.

So why are newspapers dying? and what does the end mean for city life?

First, newspapers have lost some of their viability because they have generally failed to attract new readers to their print format.   People under age 40 tend to read their news online and watch cable news channels rather than read newspapers.  I would argue that because they have access to a wide variety of news sources, younger people are also more selective.  They do not choose a local daily because it is the local daily, or out of habit.  If they don’t connect with the content and the writers, they don’t buy it.  And, if you can read the few columnists or topics of interest for free online from the comfort of your laptop, why buy a newspaper.

Second, most newspapers haven’t managed to integrate themselves that well into the online and multi-media-stream world and potential new revenue streams within it.  This may be because they try to insert the same content, which only works some of the time in a different medium.  And it may be because standard newspapers too often run boring standard news feeds (AP, CP, etc.) or offer unchanged press-releases as news.  Yawn.  Give me some analysis, perspective, research — something!
What does this mean for cities, and connecting people?

In the past, the majority of residents read the local daily regularly.  It connected people to the world and everything about their city — business, sports, culture, arts.

Today, there are so many alternate sources for obtaining this information.  Standard news can be found on TV, on the radio, and from online news sources (with the best ones getting more traffic).   Blogs too — to know what’s going on at City Hall, I read Frances Bula.  Arts, culture, lifestyle information can be found on blogs, through Facebook networks, and specific websites, and now Twitter.

The city is interconnected in so many more ways than just through a newspaper.  For many under 40, the loss of newspapers will not be a hardship.  But some of the content and writers will be missed — by everyone.  In fact, in the vacuum from the final collapse of failing newspapers, I predict new publications will emerge.  They might be online arregators first — of content from blogs, twitter feeds, websites, and staff journalists — and a weekly or twice weekly print publication second.

Do you read your city’s daily newspaper (s)? Will you miss it if it disappears?  Where do you get your news?

13 comments

  1. Chris says:

    I don’t know if I’m old enough to comment on what newspapers used to be, but I have still seen a pretty steady decline of newspaper quality over the last X amount of years. And I think young people especially have become so increasingly skeptical and analytical in ways grey suits in publishing have no conception of. I mean, people haven’t stopped reading newspapers because The Daily Show is more of a technological step ahead, nor blogs or facebook or Wired online or whatehavyou. But these media are so utterly savvy in ways that young people need. You open up a newspaper, and while there are some decent editorialists left, the bulk of publishing relies upon news agencies, the AP, CP and the like who pump out formulaic, boring, questionable base coverage that do nothing but offend many intelligent readers. Newspapers have moved beyond covering events to simply hinting at the facts. Anyone under 40 is cynical enough to take an AP piece with a couple grains of salt. This is seriously devaluing to the newspaper. So before we get too Marshall McLuhan, lets take a deep look at the message itself. So in short, people have just become too smart for stupid newspapers.

    It parallels the auto industry to some extent, where profit incentives and a devalued product have led to the industries’ collapse.

    Around coffee houses and campuses in Edmonton, the tables are littered with Newspapers. Not the Journal or the Sun, but View Weekly. Some people do still value a relationship with good, local newspapers, but it has to have a dose or respectability and authenticity or else its best used in a bird cage. I think the popularity of a View Weekly (and I imagine there is a similar pattern in all N.American cities) shows that newspapers and new media can coexist, and people will clamor after pretty much any media that is accessible and cheap: So long as its not crap.

    To get to the question, yes I will miss newspapers if they go down, and I am still one that would read the Journal, or the Globe and Mail, at my leisure and with the amount of skepticism that is required, only because I enjoy the process so much. With coffee, cigarette and sunshine.

    Now I live in Tokyo, and there are three English dailies: The Daily Yomiyori, The Japan Times and the Herald Tribune. I only ever buy the Herald Tribune. I also subscribe to the weekly version of the Guardian. Which if that paper ever goes under will bring tears to my eyes.

  2. Dan Lorentz says:

    I think this is a very good question–the question, that is, of how the loss of newspapers will impact the quality of life in cities.

    Even though many local papers aren’t that good, I’m less optimistic than some that the blogs and aggregators can replace the kind of coverage of local news that newspapers at least used to provide.

    Anyway, I took my own initial stab at worrying about all this in a four part series called “Notes about the Future of Urban Journalism” at Where.

    Here’s a link to the first in the series:

    http://thewhereblog.blogspot.com/2008/12/notes-about-future-of-urban-journalism.html

  3. Melanie A. says:

    I moved to San Francisco from Washington DC in 1988. The difference in quality between my accustomed _Washington Post_ and the light-on-real-news San Francisco papers was so extreme that even a young ignoramus like myself could notice. Since then, I’ve seen the SF Bay Area dailies steadily degrade into irrelevancy, the worst case, in my opinion, being the _Oakland Tribune_.

    Many of these newspapers are owned by unconcerned corporations with no roots in the communities they allegedly serve, and no vision beyond the next quarter. For breaking news about your community, or, for crying out loud, even advertising by merchants in your own city, you have to go online. I’m fine with no more paper dailies under these circumstances, though I regret the unemployment of the professional journalists who tried to counter this trend.

  4. allen warren says:

    What I’d like to know is where do the bloggers and news aggregators plan to get their information from if newspapers go down. Right now, bloggers use mainstream print stories as the departure point for most of their commentary and analysis; news aggregators are 99% mainstream print stories.

    Not to be too offensive to new media types here, but it’s a classic host-parasite relationship, only in the case of blogs and news aggregators (parasites), they don’t seem to realize that they need to help keep their host (print media) alive for their own mutual survival.

    Like, what are people thinking here?? Radio and TV, to lesser extent, depend on print media as well to come up with the stories. Radio and TV is like an early form of blogging–they steal from print and possibly expand from there.

    Without print, there is NO future media. Bloggers just do not have, and never will have the firepower, infrastructure or credibility to do what newspapers do.

  5. Charles says:

    First, it is the print version of newspapers that are going out of business. I notice the Seattle PI made clear that the on line version would still be there so bloggers will still be able to get whatever they get from the local newspaper. I encourage all to read “What Would Google Do” by Jeff Jarvis for a good account of how the internet took down the big city daily. Not only is internet news more timely and interesting but the internet went after the newspaper advertising income streams. Craiglist almost singlehandedly destroyed a newspaprer’s classified section. That really hurt.
    Another problem (from a conservative’s viewpoint anyway) is that newspapers simply became too liberal and incapable of discerning the difference between news and opinion. As conservatives and conservative leaning independents left that put a serious hit on subscription levels which inturn impacted advertising rates. Newspapers were “hoist on their own petard” and now, to survive, must join the crowd on the internet where life is a little more competitive than it was in their local monopoly.

  6. Charles says:

    I would think most people now would be overjoyed at the newspaper’s demise. Aftr all, newspapers have a rather large carbon footprint. Think of all the trees that will be saved. Old growth forests will live on longer, and new growth forests may get a chance to live on to become old growth.

  7. Wendy Waters says:

    Great discussion everyone. On Allen Warren’s point about the web sphere needing the content produced for print … I think that’s a key question here: will someone else step forward and pay for that labor?

    Or, will we have fewer news stories, but perhaps with better quality?

    One reason I’ve never been a big reader of daily newspapers is that I like perspective (I have degrees in history, so this is how I think). The daily “noise” isn’t typically that helpful in actually understanding what is going on — you need some context for interpretation.

    By contrast, a writer who can ponder events related to a topic over a week and/or has a few days to put together an article can offer that perspective. I like Saturday newspapers (NY Times, Globe and Mail) because they often offer more of this perspective. And I like weekly magazines such as the Economist for the same reason. But I also like columnists in daily newspapers who have an old fashioned “beat” that they cover daily because they have the background to offer perspective.

    Maybe a lot of these newspapers can survive as weekly publications that really offer insight into city issues — or that become a great reference for city goings on in every sphere.

  8. MinchinWeb says:

    I would be cautious to apply the alternatives found in San Francisco to other cities. While SF may have a large online/technically inclined population and so while blogs and the like have taken to covering local news, in Edmonton I have yet to see anything online (beyond sites from mainstream media) that covers local news with any sort of consistency.

    I skim local papers regularly, but almost solely for local news.

  9. Ian says:

    Wendy – here’s a great list of the best recent essays about the transformation the traditional news industry is undergoing:
    http://journalism.nyu.edu/pubzone/weblogs/pressthink/2009/03/26/flying_seminar.html

    Most, like you, are optimistic about the possibilities of the transition.

  10. Wendy says:

    Thanks Ian — informative website.

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