“Fewer newspapers mean a weaker democracy…”

This via Paul at the Local Democracy blog, via Chris on one tangible outcome after the Cincinatti Post failed at the end of 2007:

fewer candidates ran for municipal office in the suburbs most reliant on the Post, incumbents became more likely to win re-election, and voter turnout fell.

On Slugger we’ve been talking about the difficulties of newspapers in the face of the free economy of the Internet almost since we began back in 2002. The next eighteen months is likely to bring some shocking news in the UK newspaper market (possibly with some big repercussions here), as the trade crisis hits managements with little more to cut to save corporate revenue streams, they won’t have anything left that even vaguely resembles a newspaper…

More from us later on this…

  • Mack

    Creative destruction in action Mick. If newspapers are no longer viable in the face of free-to-consumer information available on the web, then that’s the price of progress – many other products and services have suffered the same fate.

    But, it doesn’t mean there isn’t money to be made – just that business need migrate online and change the business model. Physical newspapers have two main revenue streams, the price you pay and adverts placed. While the former is pretty much a non-runner online (and I think newspapers charging a subscription for content, any content, are doing themselves incredible damage in the long term), advertising (with the right partner) should be much more profitable in the medium term. Why? Because, with the free economy, content aggregators (and Slugger, like Nuzhound, is sort of one), search engines and the like the potential audience for good content is much higher than in even a national newspaper. Ads can be much better targeted (meaning less advertising spend is wasted, which should mean a greater total advertising spend), whether at it’s most simple level of targetting – based on the content on the page, or on more advanced behaviorial characteristics (user tracking across domains to discern – who am I communicating with?, what are they seekng now?)

    It’s also the nature of software & hardware (Moore’s law, Butter’s Law, economies of scale, cloud computing / software as a service, open source software) that the cost of running such services is decreasing all the time.

    As more and more and users get used to seeking their news from the web, the problem you highlight in the first paragraph will be a non-issue, providing there is local content online. For the ‘newspapers’ (content providers really) that means the physical distribution costs they currently incur will disappear – to be replaced with new problems & costs – how to drive the right sort of traffic to your service? By getting the attention of valued-added aggregators such as Slugger, perhaps?

  • Mack

    Also, I think this same issue is ultimately going to hit TV networks too, where it may cause even more problems.

    The music and video industries have also struggled to come to terms with the web and free-to-consumer economics. Fighting it every step of the way, instead of figuring out a new way to monetise it.

  • Mick Fealty

    Mack,

    I’m a fully paid up member of the ‘online revolution /creative destruction is good’ club, but you highlight one of the key problems here:

    “providing there is local content online”…

    There ain’t, yet. The clock cannot be wound back of course, but you can see the problems arising are not just commercial, they are also democratic…

  • Rory Carr

    The solution to the travails in the newspaper industry that seems most commonly attempted by publishers is that of going downmarket. To the forefront in this strategy is a daily with which Mick himself is not unacquainted as this story from today’s edition of Private Eye well illustrates:

    ‘Suggestions that under his watch the Telegraph has moved downmarket or features anything, in his own words, “inappropriate”, send editor thirsty Will Lewis apoplectic.

    He will no doubt have been delighted that one of the Telegraph website’s “most viewed” stories in the days following actress Natasha Richardson’s skiing accident was “Natasha Richardson’s knickers-out moment”, a hot scoop from May 2005 about a wardrobe malfunction at a party which had left her displayed, in the paper’s leering phrase, “in all her glory”. It mysteriously disappeared from the rankings when, two days after the accident, the actress died.’

    If this downmarket spiral is to continue it is inevitable that it would find a more accomodating home on the net where linked access to the pleasures of sexual tittillation is simpler and more anonymous.

    Meanwhile it might be thought that hungry journos seeking a follow-up scoop might scrutinise the expenses claims of the Home Secretary for any evidence of purchases of the Daily Telegraph and be readily armed to downplay any defence that, “I only buy it for the politics”. That was the old cry we used to hear back in the fifties when, after a blasting sermon from the parish priest at Sunday morning mass on the evils of “that filth in the English papers”, the local burgers would furtively slip their pre-ordered copies of the News of the World under their coats while red-facedly mumbling, “I only buy it for the sport”. Indeed.

  • I think that Local is the new ‘black’ in terms of where newspapers are going with their online content – the way is being led by the likes of the New York Times with it’s “The Local’ service.

    In Múscraí, where I’m based, I’ve set up an online newsletter, iMuscraí. It’s still in its fledgling state – but it’s definitely off the ground….

  • “they won’t have anything left2

    So where will Pete go for his hyperlinks? 😉

    I think a healthy democracy needs newspapers with a strong bent for investigative journalism. Sadly, this form of journalism has largely disappeared.