Local News is Nobody’s Business

That means the reporting done outside the Courier is done on the cheap, and there’s not a lot of it. The various media attempting to fill the void left by the paper are fragmented, lightly staffed and can only partly cover even the limited areas they focus on. One of these days some website is bound to get the funding it needs to expand, if it’s blogger-in-chief can devise a business model that pays (or pays enough), but that hasn’t happened yet.

I don’t know what the profit margin is at the paper now, but one of the problems with Gannett is it demands—for its true audience, its investors—a high profit margin. Perhaps the Courier has never been profitable enough to suit Gannett. I do know there were a number of years when the paper made a decent profit but did not remotely make its numbers.

I wonder if print news is one of those businesses in which owners are going to have to forgo investor-grade profit margins in order to keep the necessary staff in place to create the “product.” News that is news and not infotainment may have to be a slow-economy, low-return business.

Sometimes I go to the library to look up old Courier stories from the fifties or sixties or seventies. Those pages are blissfully without color and black with ink; there’s just so much copy, by current standards. Now there’s not enough copy to justify a copy desk, and the Courier, which has been dying a death of a thousand cuts for several years now, is amputating limbs.

You can call that progress if you like. Me, I see a void, and maybe an opportunity. Or maybe just a void.

photo (c) Kevin Lim


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7 comments on this post.
  1. JD Salyer:

    Looks like they’re going out of their way to stick it to the memory of Herbert Agar.

  2. Mitch:

    Newspapers have traditionally had very high profit margins. Something has to give and when you are publicly traded it isn’t going to be profit margins. Luckily my hometown paper is family owned, its been downsizing but not as rapidly as many papers in similarly sized cities. I think newspaper owners (if there are any, as opposed to investors) have to see their newspaper as a community service as much as a business. Not that they should run the paper at a financial loss, but accept thin profit margins. This means that patrician types will have to own newspapers if they are to continue.

  3. Jake Meador:

    As someone who works for a newspaper, one of the issues here is that many papers are owned by large conglomerates. The paper I work for, for instance, is still really profitable. We’re in the midwest and cover a college sports team that our state is positively obsessed with. But we’re owned by a large conglomerate so even when we make money, we don’t necessarily see all of the profit. Some of the profit goes to prop up less viable papers. One of our rivals has been employee owned until just the past year when one local magnate bought the paper and they should be solid for years to come. I think we will be too, but I don’t feel as confident with us.

  4. Patrick Deneen:

    David Simon (of “The Wire” fame) testified before the Senate on this topic. As worth reading as Kate’s reflections here. http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2009/05/09/david_simon_testimony_at_the_future_of_journalism_hearing_96415.html

  5. Carl Eric Scott:

    Fine reporting of, alas, bad news.

  6. Benjamin P. Glaser:

    Our local paper, the Laurel (MS) Leader-Call, closed for good after 100 years of printing, two weeks ago.

  7. polistra:

    Where does the reporting go? I don’t know and I don’t care.

    I’ve never found out anything I wanted or needed to know from a local newspaper.

    Local info that I want to know (just for curiosity): (1) Where were those sirens going? (2) What caused the power outage this morning?

    Local info that I need to know (for survival): What’s the general situation of crime, decay, and improvements in my neighborhood?

    I can sometimes find the want-to-know things from the web. I can find the need-to-know by walking around the neighborhood.

    The local newspaper and local TV stations never answer any of those questions. Instead, they babble on about the supposed evils of “global warming”, the supposed evils of discrimination, the supposed wonders of Chinese-slave-built crap, the latest false “study” about chocolate and breast cancer, the latest false “study” about red wine and breast cancer, and the meaningless doings of high society.

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