Newspapers have served as a primary information resource and a key watchdog against abuses of power by government and private interests since hacked-off Bay Staters threw British tea into Boston harbor.
But now they are on the bullet train to oblivion.
The most recent casualty was the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which had been printing for 146 years.
Two weeks before that, Denver’s Rocky Mountain News turned out the lights, and the Tucson Citizen is on life support.
At least these cities still have a daily, for now. Most observers believe it won’t be long before some major American cities have none at all.
The San Francisco Chronicle lost a $1 million per week in 2008.
The Chicago Tribune, LA Times, New Haven Register and Philadelphia Inquirer are all owned by companies in bankruptcy. Chicago’s Sun-Times and the Miami Herald are for sale and no one’s buying.
The major problem is collapsing ad revenue. It’s dropped 25% in the last 2 years, which is actually a steeper decline than that posted by America’s Big Three automakers over the same time period.
Craigslist and similar online sites have blown up a 2-century-old business model just like that.
The papers’ efforts to balance the books have led to draconian workforce reductions that compromise the final product. The LA Times’ news staff is half what it was a decade ago, for example.
“I can’t imagine what civil society would be like (without newspapers),” Buzz Woolley told the New York Times. The San Diego businessman has been a long time critic of the city’s Union-Tribune, and now backs VoiceofSanDiego.org, an internet news site.
“I don’t want to imagine it. A huge amount of information would just never get out.”