America's Doomed Small Newspapers

Includes: GHC, GHS, LEE
by: Felix Salmon

Bill Wyman’s 9,000-word, two-part magnum opus laying out five reasons why newspapers are failing is a must-read — or at least the first three reasons are; the final two are a little weaker.

The first part, on how consumers have never paid for news, is the clearest exegesis I’ve yet seen of the truism that newspapers don’t sell news, they sell readers. The second part delivers some much-needed home truths about how most newspapers really aren’t that great to begin with. And the third part explains why the Gawker version of a Washington Post (WPO) story is nearly always going to be much more fun to read than the original newspaper article.

Wyman doesn’t pretend to have solutions to these problems; most likely there aren’t any. He does provide a list of suggestions, at the end, for newspaper owners; they’re all good ideas, but they’re by no means sufficient to turn around the imploded economics of local newspaper publishing, and I think he implicitly overstates how effective they can be.

Wyman has provided a good analysis of why newspapers are doomed; the weakness in his article comes towards the end, when he hints that this state of affairs might have been avoided, or maybe even could still be avoided. The biggest newspapers in the land can and probably will pursue a successful last-man-standing strategy. But among the thousand-plus smaller newspapers, the number with a rosy long-term future is pretty much zero.

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