What Happens to the Local Ecosystem if the Local Newspaper Shuts Down

Mark Potts over at the Recovering Journalist blog describes what would happen to the local news ecosystem if a major city (Whoville) loses its daily newspaper (inspired by this article about the difficulties facing the [praized subtype=”small” pid=”f52bb3acf2433c150dbaf97473777965f7″ type=”badge” dynamic=”true”]).

local newspaper

Flickr photo by Matt Callow

He first describes the existing ecosystem:

(…) Today, Whoville has a major daily paper (the Whoville Bugle), four network TV stations with news departments, an AP bureau, an alt-weekly, a weekly business tabloid, a couple of weekly (or daily) ethnic papers, college papers, perhaps an all-news radio station (and at least a couple stations that still do some local news), a ring of suburban papers–mostly weekly, maybe a couple daily–and perhaps a handful of in-city neighborhood weeklies.
(…) Whoville and it’s ‘burbs also are bristling with new media. There are enough local online news and bloggers that Examiner.com and Outside.In each can devote a dedicated channel to aggregating Web content about the city. Craigslist, Yelp, Citysearch and others have beachheads in the market, offering classifieds and reviews that are especially appealing to younger readers. Local outposts of MerchantCircle, Kudzu and other online business directories and Yellow Pages wannabes target local businesses. Local restaurant bloggers, sports bloggers and other specialists write about things they’re interested in.

He then describes what happens if the Whoville Bugle folds:

The entire Whoville media ecosystem, described above, steps up to pick off the Bugle’s advertisers and readers. Some of the media outlets that were dependent on the Bugle’s coverage to inspire their content (e.g. TV news and bloggers) will learn to look to other sources. But there’s already a lot of diverse media in Whoville serving local news and information needs, and they’ll fill a lot of the gap left by the death of the paper.

Inevitably, a group of ex-Bugle staffers, backed by local money, will start the Whoville Daily Trumpet, a fraction the size of the Bugle but much more focused on the city itself. The new paper will leave suburban coverage to the community papers and be smart enough to not even mess with national and international news that’s available in a zillion places. With more focus, a much leaner business plan, hungry ad sales reps and hired printing and distribution, the Daily Trumpet can be competitive in ways the bloated, overextended Bugle could not be.
What it means: Love that article. Potts describe a very darwinesque ecosystem, one I believe is very credible and illustrates well the extreme fragmentation facing local content today. A couple of random thoughts come to my mind. First, because content is so fragmented, it becomes critical that the cost structure of those local content providers be as flexible as possible. Second, I think the closing of the main daily paper in any given city still represents today a reduction in the level of trusted content available to readers, that is if the daily was still a trusted source (some of them are just shells with none of the shine of their former glory days). Third, this scenario assumes that the dailies’ stakeholders (managers, unions, employees, printers, products, etc.) will not adapt to those changes. I’m not convinced that most traditional media organizations will just rollover and die. I still see tremendous (but underutilized) assets in most traditional media firms.

5 thoughts on “What Happens to the Local Ecosystem if the Local Newspaper Shuts Down

  1. Of course, another possibility is that 5 years after the Bugle folds, some enterprising web guy revives it as a community-written, online-only newspaper. Hmmm… where would I get an idea like that?

  2. Of course, another possibility is that 5 years after the Bugle folds, some enterprising web guy revives it as a community-written, online-only newspaper. Hmmm… where would I get an idea like that?

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