Out of Print: The Future of Local News (Or Lack Thereof)

Throughout this seemingly unrelenting pandemic, it has become clear that the businesses that are hit the hardest economically are not large corporations, but small local businesses. This unfortunately does not apply only to the middle-of-the-block stores, but also to local news outlets. For a variety of reasons, many newspapers are barely able to withstand the tides of economic collapse, if they have not already shut down. Everything that can be done to save local newspapers should be done, as it would be a tragic loss to each reader that sees them go.

Traditional newspapers had already long been in financial trouble due to increasing access to online newspapers, but the onset of the pandemic has resulted in a loss of many of their normal sources of revenue. Methods of distribution became limited, including the closure of retail stores, where print newspapers were sold. Advertisers in local newspapers, who were often small businesses, were experiencing a financial crunch and did not have money to spare for advertising. This resulted in the paradox that, at exactly the time when people’s consumption of news was increasing, the revenue for local news sources was decreasing. Before the pandemic, many newspapers were already moving online, but even local newspapers that were able to move in this direction are not able to attract online advertising in the face of fierce competition from players such as Facebook and Google.

Newspapers have been managing as best they can, cutting staff, content, and frequency, with some moving writers from special sections to general and COVID-19 news. However, it is unclear how they will survive this time.

This is a severe problem. Perhaps not the issue of print news in and of itself — it’s quite clear that fewer print newspapers, if any, would be a definitive environmental improvement — but the loss of print news as a medium for the range, depth, and quality of news that is essential to an informed and connected society. Many people read print news daily, and this diminishment in production and distribution leaves them without this regular access, particularly when the newspaper does not have an online version.

All this culminates to a diminished news output and a diminished reception of that news. Each of these is bad enough on its own, but put together, it creates a truly concerning cycle: less output leads to fewer readers, which leads to less revenue, leading to less ability for output, and repeat.

It is clear that, to protect local newspapers, it is up to the community to financially support these institutions. It would be possible for large institutions to help fund newspapers, such as Google and Facebook, but that could result in a conflict of interest when reporting on institutions, whether they be Silicon Valley companies or even the government. If nothing occurs in the near future, the total collapse of local newspapers may begin, and the world will move into a further state of full corporate control.

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