Local newspapers are changing ownership quickly now. Knox gave up publishing the Jefferson County Daily Union in December, and now Bliss will sell the Janesville Gazette (and radio stations) this June.
The new, common ownership (APG) will drain any money they can from the acquisitions, and then sell whatever’s left for scrap within a few years.
These local papers are in irreversible decline in significant measure because they advanced – and refused to abandon – an ideology of local boosterism & babbittry. They’ve made the defense of local officials a crackpot ideology.
One can say that Dean Baquet of the New York Times‘s was half right when he predicted that
the greatest crisis in American journalism is the death of local news . . . I don’t know what the answer is. Their economic model is gone. I think most local newspapers in America are going to die in the next five years, except for the ones that have been bought by a local billionaire.
Baquet is right that most local papers are doomed: they (and online websites that follow their style) have embraced a declining demographic’s desperation and delusion.
He’s wrong, however, to think that a billionaire, local or otherwise, will save these papers. The new publisher, APG, is a terrible place to work where employees see no respect for journalism, few opportunities, onerous requirements, and have low morale. There will simply be less money for the same struggling, poorly-mentored or middling employees.
Update, Tuesday afternoon: digital versions of dull publications won’t save these newspapers: there won’t be enough advertisers or subscribers for electronic editions if the quality of reporting stays the same (and it almost surely will).
Indeed, if digital alone made a difference, these incurious-to-the-point-of-ignorant efforts wouldn’t have changed hands.
Tomorrow: What Can Be Done (Even Though It Probably Won’t Be)?