Why Newspapers Are Destined to Die
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Only Nostradamus could predict exactly what’s coming next (not really), but we can be certain that the newspapers we all love to hate don’t have much of a future. How can we know that? Well, for one thing, just look at these latest numbers from Gallup:
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Americans' confidence in two facets of the news media -- newspapers and television news -- has fallen to all-time low points. Just 16% of U.S. adults now say they have "a great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in newspapers and 11% in television news. Both readings are down five percentage points since last year.
Many people have trouble believing that newspapers could go the way of the Dodo but apply those numbers anywhere else. Do you think a restaurant could survive if only 16% of their patrons thought the food was really good? How about a car repair shop where the number of customers that were sure they could get their cars fixed was that low? The only places that can be that universally hated and survive are part of the government, which admittedly, is a possibility.
It’s not hard to imagine Democrats helping out their pals in the media by subsidizing their hapless garbage because they believe it’s good to have them putting their propaganda out, but that would be likely to further reduce the public’s trust in the media. After all, how do you believe what a paper says about the government when they can only survive with government funding? How much confidence would you have in a scientific study showing that smoking is healthy for you founded by the American Tobacco Association? On top of that, given how unpopular newspapers are, Republicans would aggressively try to block, cut, or ideally end any funding that the media received. In other words, government funding might look like a lifeline, but ultimately it would be an anchor.
However, it’s worth asking; How did newspapers get into this position in the first place?
First of all, in the modern era, news has moved online. You can make a lot of money doing media online, but it’s a drop in the bucket compared to what newspapers used to make back in the day when everyone was buying a paper, there was almost no competition, and before competitors like Craigslist stole most of the classifieds market. This is a big problem because non-local reporting is extremely EXPENSIVE. It often requires paying reporters a big chunk of money, paying for their flights, hotels, and expenses to cover events that may not be all that exciting or make for a big story. It’s also time intensive, especially when you’re talking about things like legislation, technology, or health issues. So, how do you make that profitable? In many cases, you don’t, but you can cut all the way down to the bare bones and publish what are essentially rewritten press releases passed along by friendly operatives in addition to outrage bait. That is a formula that is, at least for the short term, getting some papers in the black – temporarily at least. Even that is going to turn out to be a short-term reprieve:
About one in four US newspapers, or almost 2,200 titles, have shuttered in the past 15 years, according to a University of North Carolina School of Journalism and Media report. Many of the remaining 6,700 publications have become what UNC calls “ghost newspapers”: shells of their former selves, stuffed with adverts and wire copy after years of gutting.
...Not everyone is a loser. The New York Times’s newsroom headcount is at an all-time high. Its stock valuation has quadrupled since 2016, and it has become a rare force in American journalism, growing to seven million digital subscribers. But this is more than four times the combined online paying readership of the Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, and all 100 newspapers owned by Gannett, the largest US print publisher by newspaper titles.
...The great recession of 2008 brought any lingering excess to a halt, for good. Advertising revenues for US newspapers plunged from $49bn in 2006 to $14bn in 2018, according to Pew Research.
Why did those revenues decline so fast? It was the Internet. Instead of a local paper dominating coverage in each city, there are a nearly unlimited number of competitors going toe-to-toe with the big boys online. How can they do that? Well, as I noted in my piece, “How Doritos Journalism Corrupted the News Business and is Wrecking America,” all those online entrepreneurs are operating under a completely different paradigm than the mainstream media did up until recently: