27 May 2012

Can Local News Save US Newspapers? | Opinion

Waren Buffet, Stephen Colbert think local focus could save US newspapers from extinction.
Is local news the key to 21st-century newspaper success?
You needn't be a writer to know that newspapers are an endangered species.

Circulation's been in decline for years, with advertising revenue following close behind. Debate on what caused this could fill a library, with fingers pointed at everything from the publishers to Apple's iPad to Google and Craigslist. But what's clear is that even in large US cities, once-thriving publications must cut back or simply shut down.

Enter what may be the most unlikely of highly unlikely duos: the real-life Midwestern billionaire CEO Warren Buffet and make-believe Conservative Libertarian chat show host, Stephen Colbert...

Buffet recently made headlines by announcing that his company -- Wall Street icon Berkshire Hathaway -- has purchased a few dozen newspapers, mostly in the southern US and serving mid-sized cities or towns. Editorial reaction was mixed, ranging from guarded optimism to...well, what we'd call guarded skepticism.

Warren Buffet says he believes in the future of US newspapers and wants the rich to pay more in taxes.
Another recent Buffet idea that met with skepticism.
Which is understandable, because Buffet's opinion carries weight. Known as a contrarian who puts rock-steady growth and long-term value ahead of share-price and market trends, the 'Sage of Omaha' can point to 60-odd years of unparalleled investing success. His moves can move markets. He knows that. The SEC knows it.

Thus, whether a reflection of sagacity or sentimentality (or both), Buffet's newspaper strategy can't be easily dismissed. Clearly, there's method to his choices: near-monopoly papers in areas with a large following for local issues. Putting this focused appeal behind a paywall could spell profits. It's already working elsewhere.

Putting content behind a paywall works for the New York Times and other US newspapers.
The NY Times' paywall is paying off.
Stephen Colbert takes an interest in newspapers, too. In his TV role as a blithely zealous ideologue, the actor Colbert pointedly disdains them. He is particularly wary of 'liberal bias' they might reveal on national issues. Colbert's character avoids reading conflicting opinions. He also avoids reading about them...or even knowing they exist.*

But if local reporters stick to their beats, that's news. So, when The New York Times got wind of a feature piece in Atlanta's Beacon-Herald -- and then published a re-write -- a team of Colbert's people followed up with a day of interviews, doing their best to wring every last drop of goodness from the quintessential hometown story (VIDEO).:

Colbert Report video on Atlanta Beacon-Herald feature story: 'Man Says It's Too Hot to Fish'.
Want to save newspapers? You're welcome.
Funny stuff. Where were we? Oh, right. Newspapers.

The common thread for Buffet and Colbert is, of course, the 'local' angle. Buffet the capitalist sees a solid business opportunity, overlooked by other investors as well as by publishers, themselves. Colbert the performer sees a human story full of warmth and humor. And both men see the enduring value of sharing such tales with others.

MobilePhonesFan says you can't beat a good yarn about real people in real situations. Like any town Bogart, Georgia, is full of genuine human beings. As characters, they're as good as anything in Faulkner. Maybe better. At least Bogartians tend to avoid run-on sentences and rarely wander off into long flashbacks about past events.

That's what local newspapers do...and why we need them: they reveal us to ourselves, for good or ill. 'Local' isn't just yard sales, public notices and classified ads. Seeing yourself or your neighbors in print reminds us of who we are, where we come from. Done well, it gets us thinking about where we'd like to be, next year. Powerful stuff.

'Dear Editor: Glad the paper survived. You still suck.'
Besides, 'staying local' is smart business. There's room for a few 'national' newspapers, but most struggle to cover two county seats and the state capital. If you value your local daily, remind them to stick with 'Five Ws' that are closer to home, where they have more contacts and experience. It'll cost them less and they'll do better work.

And, please, somebody get Bobby Kirk on Twitter -- he'd be brilliant.

* One of the show's in-jokes is that, to avoid such unpleasantness, the TV Colbert doesn't read. Anything. Ever. (Jay the intern does it for him.)

via: Comedy Central

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