The Decline of the Newspaper

It is not to be mourned, but rather, celebrated, given the complete irresponsibility and outright wickedness of the media institutions:

The country’s largest newspaper company, Gannett, is once again forecasting it will sell off more of its daily newspapers. Since its merge with newspaper company GateHouse Media in 2019, Gannett has closed or sold hundreds of papers and slashed staff by more than half, and that is projected to continue. Joshua Benton has been writing about this for the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard, and he joins me now. Welcome.

JOSHUA BENTON: Good to be with you.

FLORIDO: Joshua, Gannett had 25,000 employees at the end of 2019, and less than four years later, it has just over 11,000. It slashed staff by more than half. I mean, newspaper revenue has been steadily declining over that time but not by that much, not at that rate. So what’s going on here?

BENTON: The Gannett that we have now is the result of the merger of two very large companies. The idea was an individual newspaper might struggle on its own, but if you buy enough of them, you can extract as much of the cost of producing the newspaper from the local community as possible. You cut down on print days. You have the page layout and editing done elsewhere. The thought was you could achieve these economies of scale and make a profitable business. The problem is, as part of the merger, Gannett took on a lot of debt, and they have to pay off that debt. So they need revenue. And the way that they have been doing that is by cutting costs to the bone. That means cutting staff and cutting the quality of their newspapers.

FLORIDO: I guess it goes without saying that print circulation of newspapers has plummeted in recent years. It’s been on the decline for decades, actually. And today, most people get their news online. Is it just the case that these Gannett newspapers aren’t managing to get people who used to subscribe to their print paper to subscribe to their digital product instead?

BENTON: Yeah. Newspapers have generally given up on the idea of creating new print readers. They’re not really making new print readers anymore. So the idea has been to shift to digital, and Gannett claims some degree of success in doing that. But even when that does happen, newspapers generally make significantly less money off of a digital subscriber than they do from a print subscriber. The other problem is that there are lots of other free alternatives for a lot of local news and information, and people will be happy to consume those without bothering to subscribe to the local daily.

Better uninformed than misinformed and propagandized by the corpocracy. The only real loss is historical, but that was inevitable once paper moved to digital. It will be good when government-funded media institutions like NPR and the BBC eventually fail as well. No one’s lives are enhanced or improved by learning very important information about a deadly hurricane in Bali or a fatal shooting in Chicago, or by being told lies about war, geopolitics, and the economy.