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Local News is Disintegrating!
News, clickbait, twitter, Megan, Montreal... Where's it all going?
Have newspapers had their Shrodinger moment? You know if a tree falls in the woods.... Why? No need for any newsprint from that wood pulp. The tree should remain standing. The last few years... Er decade.. Decades... have seen the slow motion destruction of journalism’s advertising operating model. It came for the local news first like an Iranian drone on a crisp Kiev winter’s day.
In the United States newspapers die at the rate of two per week, according to a report issued recently on the state of local news. And while the pandemic wasn't the total disaster some feared, 360 newspapers have shut down since the end of 2019, all but 24 of them weeklies serving small communities. No more…
An estimated 75,000 journalists worked in newspapers in 2006, and now that’s down to 31,000 per Northwestern University. Annual newspaper revenue slipped from $50 billion to $21 billion in the same period. Digital advertising and online only delivery haven't even begun to make a dent in the shortfall and newspapers are looking to philanthropists for a solution. And even there it's lacking. A bit like a dodo chasing roadrunner through your local high street.
Many of the digital-only sites are focused on single issues and are clustered in or close to big cities near the philanthropic money that provides much of their funding. Depending on philanthropy seems a tenuous model at best. Just Ask Jeeves.
News deserts are growing.
Some have surmised that nearly 70 million Americans are living in areas unserved by any local news at all. “What’s really at stake in that is our own democracy, as well as our social and societal cohesion."
Twitter claims to be the public square and it may soon be a rising only game in town - unless Musk craters it first.
And the digital only / digital advertising model is changing our papers. It's pushing them to extremes. Look at the papers today. We've had our clickbait chasers forever. Anyone remember the scene in Citizen Kane where Kane (based on William Randolph Hearst) sensationalizes the sinking of the Lusitania (a passenger ship) in the New York Harbor by a German submarine and hundreds die. His paper is saved as sales go through the roof.
Real life Hearst made a killing on that issue but spent most of the rest of the time before the war downplaying German aggression and pushing an anti-British line. But today we have click bait 24/7. Even the straight news pushes it. There's no choice in the race for eyeballs. It’s exhausting really.
Just look at the recent 'Harry and Megan' coverage. Every paper had multiple articles on their story. It was clickbait nirvana, the competition for eyeballs was overwhelming. Straight news trying to find a steadier less sensational way to cover it but keeping the 'Harry and Megan' in the headlines and the tabloids outdid each other with heated vitriol, and dozens of articles to keep people reading until The Sun published something so horrific that they had to disown it and pull it down. Where will it all end - down and out? Real news replaced by unreality?
There's money in destroying people but of course there's nothing new in that except for the intensity in how it plays out now.
For the unlucky subject in their sights it's an unremitting torture. Forever there. Summoned by a simple Google search in eternity.... or is it?
A newspaper vanished from the Internet the other day. Did someone pay to kill it? The Hook, a beloved Charlottesville weekly, closed a decade ago but its archives lived on online. Amongst the standard planning board recordings and reports of town hall meetings and other local news, the Hook did an in depth investigative reporting about major happenings around town. A few years ago it ran into financial issues.
Forced to merge with another local rag, it's original owner/editor bought out until that local became digital only and then disappeared as well. But its 22,000 stories were online and accessible in a digital archive. Digital archives are often cited as a great empowering part of digitalizing the news. Newspapers are primary sources. A story on a current event at the time becomes a historical archive over the years. But suddenly one day in June 2022 the Hook disappeared.
There are theories about what happened. Namely, a successful investment banker who had been written about because of some misdeeds had bought the archive and taken it down. A mystery buyer had taken our history. That digital archive perhaps not as formidable as imagined.
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And then of course there are the outright lies, fake news and alternative facts. The money made out of outrage, and sensationalism. And we all know those tactics don't rest solely with tabloids, partisan press or Fox News. The NY Times, and the FT can be just as guilty of playing a similar game with just higher brow rules but the game is the same. Kings maybe, but still no clothes.
Journalists feel the pressure and well they need the work and have to make money. The local journo and the superstar reporter need to figure out a new way to make their way. The Washington Post, CNN, Vox media are just a few who have announced layoffs. And LettsNews is not yet here.
The quieter Biden administration maybe getting stuff done - infrastructure, gun control - but its less then populist approach is bad for the newspapers bottom line. Hence Murdoch chasing down Trump 2.0 - a wolf in Ron’s clothing. It’s just business baby - click by click by click.
And after the sugar rush of Trump's scandal filled and scandal making (he knew the tabloid business) our news industry is having to face up to and figure out a financially viable model. Journos are experimenting. Substack, podcasts and YouTube are all in the mix. Superstar, well known journalists and broadcasters have found success there. But do they work for the everyday local news reporter? I'm not so sure.
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