Thursday, March 12, 2009

No-Newspaper Cities?

The front page of today's NYT carries another disturbing story about the future of newspapers in the United States. Metropolitan areas once served by two major papers may soon have no broad-circulation print outlets at all.

The bad news:

... some economists and newspaper executives say it is only a matter of time — and probably not much time at that — before some major American city is left with no prominent local newspaper at all. ...

For more than two centuries, newspapers have been the indispensable source of public information and a check on the abuses of government and other powerful interests. And they still reach a vast and growing audience. Daily print circulation has dropped from a peak of 62 million two decades ago to around 49 million, and online readership has risen faster, to almost 75 million Americans and 3.7 billion page views in January, according to Nielsen Online.

But no one yet has unlocked the puzzle of supporting a large newsroom purely on digital revenue, a fact that may presage an era of news organizations that are smaller, weaker and less able to fulfill their traditional function as the nation’s watchdog.

“I can’t imagine what civil society would be like,” said Buzz Woolley, a wealthy San Diego businessman who has been a vocal critic of the paper there, The Union-Tribune, and the primary backer of an Internet news site, “I don’t want to imagine it. A huge amount of information would just never get out.”

On this topic, a few days back, I mentioned my fears for the Observer-Reporter of Washington, PA. This article reminded me to also be concerned for the future of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (sample front page above).

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