Originally published: June 27, 2012
Last updated: June 27, 2012 - 2:33pm
When the Internet destroyed local newspapers' control of the flow of out-of-market news information in their communities, it eliminated many of the economies of scale that justified local newspapers being bought up into large, national chains.
What good is a deal on wire service content when your readers can get that same information for free elsewhere on the Web? (And you can just link to it from your website.) When journalists can use consumer-grade technology to produce their publications, what's the advantage of maintaining a large, slow-moving, change-resistant, central IT department? What's the sense in paying for a large national sales force when the unique, defining characteristic of your audiences is that they are local?
It didn't have to be this way. Newspapers had a moment when they could have created (and thus, controlled) the social media and publishing tools that the public eventually used to destroy local newspapers' information-access monopolies. What if Gannett had used its 1990s-era profit to create or buy something like Blogger, instead of leaving that to Google? Or Scripps had built YouTube? What if the late Knight-Ridder had used its Silicon Valley contacts to build something like Facebook? What if the newspaper industry had used its smarts to build a better search engine before Google did?
Blame for this failure must fall on the leaders of the newspaper chains in the 1990s, because plenty of individuals within their companies were screaming at them then to make these types of moves. If local newspapers are going to have a chance to succeed in today's information market, they've got to shed excess cost. And corporate overhead must be included on the list of those costs. Locally-focused news publications must become truly local, with local information, produced by local reporters with local ties, sold to local advertisers by a local sales staff who work for a local owner.
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