Thursday, August 14, 2008

Aug. 14: Seeds For Newspaper Crisis May Have Been Sown Decades Ago

By Sylvia Gurinsky

The bloodletting continues at newspapers all over, with thousands of good people continuing to be laid off.

The immediate issues have included the failure of newspaper companies to anticipate the freedom and wide-range of the Internet, and the demand that the newspaper companies continue to make the same profits they always have.

That leads to what is perhaps the real problem in all of this: Media consolidation.

Once upon a time, decades ago, newspapers were mostly owned locally. Sure, the owners wanted to make money, but they also had a clear understanding of their communities and their readers. The same was true, early on, of radio and television stations.

Then, in the middle of the 20th century, consolidation started. At first, it was by people who understood the public interest - people like the Knights, or Katharine Graham.

But more recently, it's been by major media companies that had bought the local entities to improve their own profit margins. That consolidation has come back to bite both the big companies and the local newspapers. The big companies aren't getting the same financial returns. It's worse for the local newspapers, which aren't serving their communities the way they once did.

So, here's a suggestion. There has been a trend in newspapers recently to "go local." How about doing so with ownership as well?

The idea isn't a perfect one; so far, it hasn't worked in Philadelphia, where local owners continue to lay off people at newspapers once owned by Knight Ridder. But newspapers would at least have a fighting chance if they were owned by people who loved, understood and appreciated them and the communities they cover.

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