The New York Times has had to sell part of its recently constructed headquarters, the Boston Globe is said to be worth barely 20 million dollars, the Rocky Mountain News has closed, the San Francisco Chronicle may be next. The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Chicago Tribune and the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, have all filed for bankruptcy protection.
rambling Washington Post diatribe, Kathleen Parker, who had apparently read her memo from the White House, blames Rush Limbaugh and Dittoheads for being too ignorant to know how badly they need newspapers.
In the five stages of mourning, this would seem to be the Anger stage. Or maybe it's just the usual propaganda stage, because the newspaper industry has steadily and surely dug its own grave. Parker bemoans what will happen when the local community newspaper is no longer around and no one is reporting on PTA meetings, but she knows quite well that the local community newspaper has much better prospects for survival than the national chains that syndicate her bitter ramblings.
Local community newspapers are far more likely to know their readership and to have something unique to offer them, local content that no one else is producing, and local advertising that lets neighborhood businesses connect directly with their customers. And they will survive, even when the New York Times is a distant memory. What they have, the Times and the big newspaper chains lack.
With the advent of radio, newspapers could no longer be the first source of breaking news for most people. With the advent of television, newspapers could no longer hold a monopoly of telling a story backed by images. With the advent of the internet, newspapers no longer had a monopoly on anything. The internet can duplicate every virtue of the newspaper medium, which meant that the only way for newspapers to survive was based on content.
Instead the big papers depreciated their content. They became even more shriller and partisan and broke fewer actual stories. Instead they let their Generation X and Millennials have free range. News stories became indistinguishable from editorials. Fact checking went out the window, creating the perfect environment for both fabulists such as the Times' Blair and for biased reports to create stories that fit their own agenda.
Left wing bias alone didn't kill the newspaper industry, but it certainly didn't help. Parker claims that only a few newspapers are more liberal than their readers, and there are only a few bad actors among reporters. That is a little like an investment banker claiming that Wall Street only had a few bad apples. The big newspaper chains not only became more biased, but also became more blatant about it than ever. Standards went out the window. And despite declining revenues and circulation, the newspaper chains only increased the depth of their bias and the range of their contempt for their readers.
When facing competition, even stupid businesses will usually make an effort to reach out to potential customers. Newspapers instead arrogantly turned away customers left and right. Eventually the people complaining about the big chains' biases on politics, on Israel, on the environment and on numerous other topics-- stopped complaining. They also stopped reading.
By canceling my newspaper subscription, I didn't singlehandedly bring any major papers to their knees. Nor did the many others who did so as organized protest, or out of individual dissatisfaction. We just made the situation worse. But it was the industry itself that had created the problem. Newspaper readers and subscribers are customers. When your customers are leaving, your company and your industry has a problem.
The same arrogance demonstrated by Kathleen Parker is at the heart of the problem. Newspaper chains decided that they were powerful enough to dictate their political agenda to their readers, to endlessly raise prices and create media monopolies. They did it all dressed up with the same rhetoric about public service and government watchdogs. And now when their customers have left, they're railing at them for being ignorant rubes who don't know enough to buy their newspapers.
But of course that doesn't help. If you're in the business of selling shaved ice, and no one is buying, you can either rail at bypassers for being ignorant rubes who don't know the value of shaved ice, or you can talk to them and find out why they aren't buying your shaved ice, and what you can change in order to sell it to them.
Instead newspapers insist that they and their remaining readers who pay 4 dollars on Sunday for a copy of the Times packed with full page ads, fluff stories on culture, essays on life by people who spend most of their time on Martha's Vineyard and carefully elaborated stories about different parts of the world that don't actually report anything new-- are smart. And Rush Limbaugh and his listeners who pay nothing to listen to ad sponsored broadcasts that report news that the same papers won't print, are stupid rubes.
Common sense alone would indicate otherwise. Parker titled her article, "Frayed Thread in a Free Society", but it is talk radio populism that far better represents a free society, than the big newspaper chains. Their collapse will also pave the way for greater populism locally. The new face of the newspaper industry will look less like the New York Times, it will syndicate Kathleen Parker's columns, but it will in fact report on the PTA and on school board and transportation meetings. It will be more relevant, more local, less biased and a lot less full of itself.
If the newspaper industry really wanted to survive, it would unload its baggage of arrogance, and ask how it can market itself to the same audience that makes Limbaugh's radio work so profitable. Instead the big chains have made it clear that they would rather reign in hell than serve in heaven. But castigating their departing customers as ignorant will not pay the bills, and barring a bailout from King Hussein, they're bound for the big wastebasket.