Newspaper revenue last increased in the second quarter of 2006, a quarter that closed with Shakira's "Hips Don't Lie" on top of the Billboard charts. Two weeks later, Nelly Furtado's "Promiscuous" would ascend and spend six weeks in the top slot while newspaper revenue began its six-year decline. Coincidence?
Against all odds, a handful of wealthy investors … are willing if not eager to put their dollars into the struggling newspaper market. This diverse group of budding media barons ranges from respected investors such as Warren Buffett to politically connected local players, people more accustomed to seeing their names in the news pages than on the masthead. Toss in a few investors like Alden Global Capital that snap up distressed properties, and you have a new universe of newspaper ownership emerging. One factor fueling the trend is that the papers are available at bargain if not fire-sale prices.
Warren Buffett — whose company is closing down The News and Messenger in Manassas, Va. after purchasing it along with 62 other newspapers earlier this year — says he still plans to buy more papers:
"I think newspapers in print form, in most of the cities and towns where they are present, will be here in 10 and 20 years," Mr. Buffett said. "I think newspapers do a good job of serving a community where there is a lot of community interest."
Most journalists, and journalistic institutions, have failed to take advantage of the explosion in potentially newsworthy content facilitated by the growth in digital communication. The reality is that most journalists at most newspapers do not spend most of their time conducting anything like empirically robust forms of evidence gathering. Like the historical fallacy of a journalistic "golden age," the belief in the value of original reporting often exceeds the volume at which it is actually produced.
Too many reporters remain locked into a mindset where a relatively limited list of sources is still relied on to gather evidence for most important stories, with the occasional rewritten press release or direct observation thrown in. This insider-centric idea of original reporting excludes social media, the explosion of digital data, algorithmically generated sources of information, and many other new strategies of information gathering that we emphasize here.
Everyone has something to say about the leadership change at the Washington Post. David Carr says publisher Katharine Weymouth's decision to replace executive editor Marcus Brauchli "is akin to switching drivers just as the car is sputtering to a stop" and reports that "many staff members worry that she is overseeing the decline of one of journalism’s crown jewels."
Subscriptions were never meant to be a major revenue center. Ads always were. The problem is classifieds got taken away by the Internet, not that subscriptions got taken away. The future of the industry will be in ads as well. Those who figure it out will win; those who erect paywalls will have diminishing influence. Many reporters will opt to work for places where their work is more widely read instead of an ivory tower with declining readerships and still no solid financial future.
Many believe that, because a client controls the money, the way to do commercial content is to just give them what they say they want. The results are frequently dreary, painful, and an affront to intelligence. They also don’t work. And then clients get cranky and blame the medium, rather than their poor message.
Numbers of all kind — far beyond those from polling and elections — are gushing from local governments, but not many of them are showing up in meaningful ways on community sites. I’m talking about numbers on school performance, health and wellness, public safety, and all the other categories that define what makes a community tick.