The bankruptcy of Lee Enterprises, publisher of 48 newspapers across the United States, is the latest episode in the steady decline of local printed media. Is the newspaper, particularly the local publication catering for a smaller market, dead?
Futurist Ross Dawson certainly thinks so, last year predicting US newspapers won’t exist as we know them by 2017 with them being replaced by digital platforms like the web, iPad and Kindle.
The problem for the media industry is how to fund news gathering in a digital environment. Newspapers are dying because advertisers have moved online, so Google now makes $30 billion a quarter on the income the local paper has lost in classifieds and display advertising.
For web surfers, this is also a problem as much of what appears on the net — in blogs, Facebook, on Twitter and circulated around message boards — comes from newspapers and largely subsidized by their rapidly eroding print revenues. Take out the traditional media, and many of the authoritative online sources disappear.
Much of the free web content we’re seeing is a transition effect as we evolve to paid online models, something that is going to be driven by advertisers following consumers’ eyeballs to the net.
For the publishers who don’t go broke in the meantime, this will probably save them in whatever form they evolve into.
Cutting costs to survive the current lean period is essential for newspapers, the tragedy is many are following other industries in cutting the very areas that give them their competitive advantage while keeping antiquated and expensive management who hang on to failed strategies.
Poor management is probably a bigger threat to the news empires, as it is for many other industries.
The damage done by poor business leadership is far greater than the cost of outsized management salary packages and entitlements. Until shareholders address the number, cost and suitability of the managers charged with running their investments, the future for these organisations is bleak .
Local journalism is going to change as we start seeing old media’s economies of scale being replaced by cheaper technology that allows local people to reclaim their news and community stories.
They will be doing this through blogs and social media while using their mobile phones and cheap cameras to capture and document local news.
For the local newspapers and media outlets who understand and harness their community, they’ll remain valued local commercial citizens; for those who see their readers as a mass of dumb consumers, they’ll be lucky to last the decade.