Originally published at http://www.commondreams.org/views/2019/10/02/wall-street-killing-local-newspapers
Great article. Thanks for publishing it CD. In France, public funding is directed to smaller news outlets to keep them viable because of their critical role in a democracy. This should be done here too. Here, some foundations are kicking in but it’s not enough. The smaller newspapers also have to find a corporate structure to protect themselves from the vultures.
From the article:
“The march of these buyout barons continues. This summer, New Media Investment Group (owner of GateHouse Media) announced plans to buy Gannett.”
Permit me a taste of schadenfreud–Gannett was the corporate behemoth that bought out my local daily and drove it into a ditch. The Asbury Park Press, family-owned and in continuous publication since 1889, was once the second-largest circulation paper in the state, behind only the Newark Star-Ledger (full disclosure: I worked there briefly as copy boy, considering a career in journalism, after dropping out of college in 1967).
After the Gannett buyout, it began by closing its bureaus in the statehouse and the county seat, and laying off full-time reporters; it was left to stringers to cover town council meetings and other events of public interest–if they got covered at all. That triggered the death spiral: declining readership, declining ad buys, declining revenue, more cutbacks, less circulation, etc. ad perimortem.
I’m not sure when it started charging to publish obituaries, but that, along with the state law requiring legal notices be printed in the classified ad section, is about the only thing keeping it afloat. Unmentionables, above, suggests that public funding is merited due to the vital role journalists play in a democracy; how exactly that would work isn’t obvious to me, but what is obvious is that the present business model of newspapers is failing.
Not sure how it would work here, but smart people could come up with a model. The basic principle would be a broad definition of the public interest, some criteria on size of the media outlet, and a specific corporate structure permission law for local media so the funding wouldn’t turn into a subsidy for the private equity octopus.
Wall Street is not killing local papers. Lack of readers is killing local papers, just as lack of horse-drawn carriages killed local blacksmiths.
The total circulation of newspapers today is less than in 1940, despite the fact that the population today is roughly 2.5x the 1940 population, so whereas roughly 1/3 of people bought newspaper in 1940, fewer than 10% do today. They have ceased to be “mass media”, and will continue to decline as more and more of their revenue defects to online media.
It gets kind of chicken-or-egg here. Obviously the internet has had a negative effect on newspapers, just as it has on the US Postal Service; but as in my anecdote above, the demands of investors for ever-greater returns caused the quality of the Press to decline, and, thus, caused subscribers to walk away, taking revenue with them.
Please note that local weeklies are still, for the most part, thriving, because they’re still publishing material that is relevant to their readers. The Press devolved into a cut-and-paste version of USA Today, which I predicted would be fatal.
The end game of this system called Capitalism , is that when left unchecked it turns into a pure lootacracy. These guys are going to steal all they can get and it perfectly legal as laws passed by legislators on their behalf that they bought and paid for.
This pretty well what they were doing in Russia during the Yeltsin years. After the “brutal tyrant and despot” Putin took over and tossed them out they looked for easier pickings.
What’s killing local newspapers where I live is that they’re selling out to advertisers, writing articles to boost sports teams, development and other bullshit, and not doing real journalism.
The biggest local paper is described by the Trump Cult as “liberal,” but routinely promotes militarism, consumerism, population growth, and other mindless stupidity.
I don’t know of a local newspaper anywhere that does good journalism except the ones that are partnered with ProPublica.
Wall Street is killing many things including democracy, the United States, The Planet…
Killing off local newspapers is a nasty thing but is probably the least of there crimes against humanity.
Wall Street is the problem
It’s nice seeing The Storm Lake Times mentioned in Olivia Snow Smith’s report here in Common Dreams.
This local northwest Iowa newspaper is operated by brothers John and Art, their families and employees, and indeed, their newspaper won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing by Art.
This is a good analysis of the dangers of private equity and hedge funds bankrupting local newspapers, as the author describes.
Seeing Gannett bought out isn’t really Schadenfreude. They get paid a lot of money, and it simply causes even more harm to the public.
And whatever harm Gannett did, it’s at least a mixed story - I was very concerned about USA Today as a ‘McNewspaper’ harming journalism, but they did a lot of good journalism.
I disagree with one statement, that that small paper is ‘arguably as important as the New York Times’, but otherwise this is a great article about an issue needing a lot of help.
Wall Street is both a problem and a symptom. It’s the inevitable result of the vacuum that happens with a lack of real democracy and reigning in of power, which is filled by profit taking.
Analogously, it’d be like eliminating murder laws and police and saying the problem is the murderous gangs that inevitably form as a result.
Document the harm the gangs do all you like, but the solution is stronger democracy putting a stop to them. (Plug: this is why we need Bernie, the lone candidate who supports the right solutions.)
What happens when Walmart is the only business left in the community to sell ads to?
Wall Street has been doing this with more the just papers. Wall street owned chain restaurants and stores have destroyed locally owned businesses. Walmart itself has virtually destroyed the locally owned small retail business sector throughout small town America. What else have they destroyed? I know they are after small farms. But newspapers really are special and we don’t need a nation of Pravdas.
The sad thing is that people in the US have contributed to much of this as all of the 401(K)s, pensions and IRAs have gone to Wall Street where they use the money as they wish. We have helped create all of this. Of course Wall Street and Washington (our supposed representatives) have structured it this way.