The travails of the newspaper industry aren’t anything new or surprising. For the past decade, the business model of America’s newspapers has been under incredible pressures. Among the major causes are these:
- The availability of up-to-the-minute, real-time news from alternative (online) sources
- the explosion of options people have available to find their news
- The ability to consume news free of charge using most of these alternative sources
- The decline of newspaper subscriptions and readership, leading to a steep decline in advertising revenues
Exacerbating these challenges is the fact that producing and disseminating a paper-based product is substantially more costly than electronic delivery of news. And with high fixed costs being spread over fewer readers, the problems become even more daunting.
But one relative bright spot in the newspaper segment — at least up until recently — has been local papers. In markets without local TV stations, such papers continued to be a way for the citizenry to read up on local news and events. It’s been the place where they could see their friends and neighbors written about and pictured. And let’s not forget high-school sports and local “human-interest” news items that generally couldn’t be found anywhere else.
Whatever online “community” presence there might be covering these smaller markets — towns ranging from 5,000 to 50,000 population — is all-too-often sub-standard — in some cases embarrassingly bad.
But now it seems that the same problems afflicting the newspaper segment in general have seeped into this last bastion of the business.
It’s particularly ominous in places where daily (or near-daily) newspapers are published, as compared to weekly pubs. A case in point is the local paper in Youngstown, Ohio — a town of 65,000 people. Its daily paper, The Vindicator, has just announced that it will be shutting its doors after 150 years in business.
The same family has owned The Vindicator for four generations (since 1887). It isn’t that the longstanding owners didn’t try mightily to keep the paper going. In a statement to its readers, the family outlined the paper’s recent struggles to come up with a stable business model, including working with employees and unions and investing in new, more efficient presses. Efforts to raise the price of the paper or drive revenue to the digital side of the operation failed to secure sufficient funds, either.
Quoting from management’s statement:
“In spite of our best efforts, advertising and circulation revenues have continued to decline and The Vindicator continues to operate at a loss.
Due to [these] great financial hardships, we spent the last year searching for a buyer to continue to operate The Vindicator and preserve as many jobs as possible, while maintaining the paper’s voice in the community. That search has been unsuccessful.”
As a result, the paper will cease publication by the end of the summer. With it the jobs of nearly 150 employees and ~250 paper carriers will disappear. But something else will be lost as well — the sense of community that these home-town newspapers are uncommonly able to foster and deliver.
For a city like Youngstown, which has seen its population decline with the loss of manufacturing jobs, it’s yet another whammy.
Because of the population loss dynamics, it might seem like local conditions are the cause of The Vindicator‘s situation, but some see a bigger story. One such observer is Nieman Journalism Lab’s Joshua Benton, who writes:
“I don’t think this is just a Youngstown story. I fear we’ll look back on this someday as the beginning of an important — and negative — shift in local news in America.”
What do you think? Is this the start of a new, even more dire phase for the newspaper industry? Is there the loss of a newspaper that has his your own community particularly hard? Please share your thoughts with other readers here.