Stop the Presses: Is This The End of the Daily Newspaper?

This fall, New Orleans will become the largest American city without a daily newspaper. After 175 years, the venerable Times-Picayune will lay off a portion of its staff, move to a web-focused news model and print only on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. It marks the end of an era.

Over the last decade, economic and social forces have been driving the traditional broadsheet closer to extinction. The rise of the blog and the advent of camera phones and mobile Internet browsing opened the floodgates of “citizen journalism.” Suddenly, everyone with a phone was a journalist, undermining the role of the pros.

The second force was the fault of the newspapers themselves. In the late-90s and early-2000s, papers began posting their content online for free in the hopes that online advertising would pay for it. It didn’t. Now, advertisers in a weak economy are afraid to buy online ad space and readers used to getting their news for free don’t want to pay for it.

Paywalls may save the industry giants like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, but what about the little guys? What happens to the local dailies when their revenue streams dry up? They close up shop, like the Denver’s Rocky Mountain News or The Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Everywhere, newspapers are cutting back or collapsing. Circulation is down, online readership is up and the old school news model (you know, the ones with the giant newsrooms filled with hard-drinking, cigarette-smoking, fedora-wearing, typewriter-pounding, suspender-snapping beat reporters) is no longer sustainable.

So, what happens when a town loses its daily news? According to the American Journalism Review, people stop voting and incumbent politicians have an easier time keeping their positions. Without the Fourth Estate in its role as the watchdog of government, we lose not just a hunk of dead trees, but also some of our ability to monitor the actions of our elected officials.

Perhaps regular folks (or maybe journalists left unemployed by the closure of their paper) will pick up the slack and deliver all the news that’s fit to tweet out of a sense of obligation to society. In some instances, this has already worked. A Twitter feed here in Flagstaff became the defacto source for updates on the recent wildfires in our area after the local TV news station shut down their operations. But what about the less glamorous side of reporting? Will someone really step up to provide unbiased reporting on city council meetings? Will cities get the in-depth, investigative coverage they need without a daily newspaper?

So, is this the end of the good old fashioned daily? I hope not. The newspaper isn’t dead yet and I, for one, hope to see its renaissance in the coming years. As someone who has studied journalism and worked in a newsroom, I can’t imagine a city without a printed paper. While we wait for the silver bullet to solve the problems of funding daily production, we must decide how much we value our news and the role it plays in our democracy.

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Jonny Eberle is a writer, photographer, filmmaker and former newspaper columnist in Flagstaff, Arizona who sometimes writes his byline in the third person to provide himself with a false sense of legitimacy. You can join the discussion in the comments below and follow him on Twitter: @jonnyeberle.

Published by Jonny Eberle

Writer, photographer, blogger and filmmaker in the City of Destiny. You can find my blog at www.jweberle.com.

3 thoughts on “Stop the Presses: Is This The End of the Daily Newspaper?

  1. Picking up on this thought: “Perhaps regular folks (or maybe journalists left unemployed by the closure of their paper) will pick up the slack and deliver all the news that’s fit to tweet out of a sense of obligation to society.”
    I am both a newspaper reporter and a blogger. I also know people who worked in radio before that industry through a job market collapse; and have talked with some who are now in broadcasting as to what happened afterward.
    It comes down to: You get what you pay for.
    It really doesn’t matter whether the income stream comes from subscribers, advertising or both. It really doesn’t matter whether the information is from print, digital or social media. But society cannot expect the work that was once appointed to full-time journalists and media professionals to be done on a volunteer basis.
    Without a paycheck or reliable freelance income stream, there comes a point in which the experienced veterans or enthusiastic rookies who are researching and presenting news and information have to make a choice. Can they still afford to do so? Will they have to get another job to pay the bills on top of the time they are spending in the media? And then at what point does juggling two jobs with family responsibilities become too much to handle?
    This is not a theoretical situation. The blogosphere is littered with good intentions that were given up.

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