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Sunday, January 27, 2019

Media Layoffs, News Deserts, and Ghost Newspapers

A new round of layoffs recently hit the news industry.  At Slate, Jeremy Littau explains that the industry's decline is not just the internet.  Three key forces have been at work.
The first is a string of bad business decisions that left news companies burdened under mountains of debt even as they avoided investing in newsrooms.
 The second force at work was the cratering of news revenues in the middle of the past decade as a quarter-to-quarter focus—and investors’ expectation of hefty profits—came back to bite the industry.
News companies severely misjudged what the internet was. For all our noble beliefs about journalism and democracy, newspapers exist as businesses to create audiences for advertisers that wanted to reach those people, and publications historically built these audiences by helping people meet information needs they have as members of communities or societies. We focus on the “news” in newspaper, but those needs included things like TV guides, birth and death announcements, and calendars of community events. In the pre-internet world, papers functioned as pseudo-monopolies based on the limits of technology and the radius a delivery truck could travel. Online publishing, with its low cost and global reach, changed everything. Those information needs could be met by a wider, more global array of choices. The newspaper was not the only game in town.
 The third force was how these companies reacted to the effects of those first two factors—devastating cuts to news resources that only accelerated the problem.
Producing news is expensive, but pinned down by the reality of audience and revenue loss against debt obligations, news companies cut resources to newsrooms. That included the human reporters who did the work that made them valuable. What happened next was entirely predictable, what Phil Meyer at the University of North Carolina famously called the “death spiral” of news. Cuts led to loss of quality, which drove away readers. Fewer readers meant fewer sales and subscriptions, which led to less ad revenue and thus more newsroom cuts. It’s the story of the past three decades of news.

David Bauder at AP:
The statistics are numbing: U.S. weekday newspaper circulation is down from 122 million to 73 million in 15 years. The number of working newspaper journalists has been cut in half since 2004. Nearly 1,800 daily and weekly newspapers have been lost in the same period, down to a little more than 7,000.

The tally is compiled Penelope Muse Abernathy, a journalism professor at the University of North Carolina, whose study of the topic has given rise to new terminology: news deserts, refers to communities that are no longer covered by daily journalists; and ghost newspapers is a reference to publications that have become a shadow of their former selves in terms of circulation and ambition.

Social media behemoths like Facebook have cut into news readership and revenue. But Abernathy said business decisions of newspaper owners are more to blame. Metropolitan and regional newspapers cut circulation in outlying suburban and rural areas, while many weekly newspapers simply shuttered, she said.

“The country feels very divided and I think a lot of the divisiveness in the country is because people feel they are not being heard,” Sennott said. There are fewer local reporters around to listen to and report on their concerns, he said.

From the report The Expanding News Desert