I’m optimistic about newspapers.
I never thought they would die. But they have been pathetic. Smaller. Less interesting. And lacking all confidence. However, this weekend I’m bullish on newspapers.
Most media watchers probably will see the sale for a measly $70 million proof that newspapers are dead. After all, two decades ago the New York Times bought the Boston Globe for $1.1 billion.
But 20 years ago newspapers and all media were just commodities to milk for 20% plus profits. The news was the last thing media moguls were investing in. Arrogance, deals and debts ruled the day. Then the economy changed. Disruption took hold where monopolies once ruled. Advertisers fled the newspaper industry. They could get better deals for their ads. Readers didn’t flee as fast as advertisers, but soon new generations could log on, get informed and control their own news appetite.
The big money-making monopolies suffered.
But people never stopped wanting information and news. They just wanted it their own way.
The fact a local business leader bought Boston’s well loved newspaper seems reason for optimism. I’m sure John W Henry wants to make money but maybe he won’t milk it only for profits. He might want influence, and power and community respect. That once was the main attraction for many newspaper owners in communities across the nation. They wanted profits mind you…but not constantly growing double digit profits. And they didn’t deal with debt. The era of the big deals brought the debt.
This Boston Globe good news also comes on the heels of reviewing a new book my colleague at UNC is just finishing: Saving Community Journalism: How Newspapers Can Make Money Again. It focuses on the digital economic realities of community journalism that matters. Penny Abernathy turned to North Carolina’s community newspapers for her research. They were her laboratories. She is the Knight Professor for Journalism and Digital Economics and has worked at the greats: The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal to name two.
I’ve only skimmed the galleys but walked away assured community newspaper that were leaders in their towns would become digital news leaders. Penny argues the newspapers she worked with to develop digital strategies are not simply selling space on multiple platforms. They are selling solutions to companies so that business can move along in this digital reality as well. The sales forces that focused on selling ads no longer do that. As Abernathy puts it in one chapter: It’s not sales. It’s solutions.
After all the talk of dead I’ve decided community news leaders are alive and well. They may be newspapers, but they better be a lot more. If community newspapers are telling their community about the changing world about them, about issues that matter and what they need to do to keep their families healthy and safe and their government responsive: I’ll call them the news leaders of the future.
I’m bullish. The hunger for news is alive and well and there are businessmen who are banking on it.