Bankrcupty: That's the word the New York Times uses in describing the current financial challenges of MediaNews Group, the company that owns the Contra Costa Times, the Oakland Tribune, the San Jose Mercury News, and the Tri-Valley Herald—in effect, most of the newspapers ringing the Bay Area, as well as others across the United States.
The MediaNews Group, according to the New York Times, is seen “as being at risk of bankruptcy.” (Moody's Investor Service uses a bit more delicacy in referring to MediaNews's troubles. While the Service put MediaNews in its new Bottom Rung list of more than 200 companies, out of more than 2,000, most likely to default on their debts, it said defaulting on debt "doesn't necessarily mean bankrcuptcy." Still, being on this list means MediaNews is not in great shape.)
In its story, the New York Times looks at major metropolitan areas that have not only lost two major competing daily newspapers over the past five-10 years, but might soon be without one at all. “Now, some economists and newspaper executives say it is only a matter of time — and probably not much time at that — before some major American city is left with no prominent local newspaper at all.”
We’ve all read that San Francisco is facing the loss of the Chronicle, which bled $50 million last year. Its owner, Hearst Corporation, says it will need to sell the Chronicle unless its managers can rein in significant cost savings, probably from laying off a number of its staff.
With this report about Media News, it makes me wonder whether our East Bay suburban communities are also at risk of losing some or all of our newspapers? Or an even more severe cutback in reporters and coverage of our communities?
Does it matter?
Should we care, when we have local bloggers, like Claycord.com, rising up to provide the really local news that people want and that—yes, I agree—the Times sometimes fails to provide?
Then again, the Times and other local, regional, and national newspapers, despite their challenges, still do really good, vital reporting--the kind that bloggers like me can't--or don't--do. For example, Contra Costa Times reporters can dig around through public records in government offices or nag government or business leaders at work about some pressing local issue. On breaking news about some major crime or other calamity, they can also do the necessary on-the-ground reporting. I don't know about other local bloggers, but I have a day job; I do this in my spare time, and, for instance, government offices are closed at night and on weekends.
Which means that I sometimes—okay, I’ll say it—steal content from the Times and the San Francisco Chronicle for my own posts. Of course, I always give those publications credit for the information.
So, I care about the Contra Costa Times going out of business or cutting back on local coverage even more.
And, as a former newspaper reporter, I adhere to that whole notion of a free, independent press—the Fourth Estate—serving as a watchdog of government and as yet another necessary check on a system that so easily careens into the muck of inefficiency and corruption. That's the digging around and nagging of people in power that I was talking about.
We can rely on newspaper stories being professionally reported, written, and edited. I won’t say that the quality or objectivity of that reporting, writing and editing is always as top-notch as it could be, but the reporting, at least, sticks to basic standards.
I also don’t want to knock the hard work and quality control exercised by bloggers, including local ones like Claycord.com. Actually, there are several reasons that Claycord.com is as good as it is, and one is that its publisher, the Mayor of Claycord, according to his own biographical information, has a professional journalism background. That means, he knows how to gather and deliver information in a quality, professional, ethical way. That professionalism is apparent in his posts. In fact, the best blogs, locally or nationally, present a degree of professionalism.
Meanwhile, I am one of those anachronisms who likes to sit in the morning, early, before anyone else gets up, by myself and with my coffee, perusing the print editions of the Contra Costa Times and the Chronicle.
At the same time, I appreciate that this old print model is, in most ways, outdated. During the day, while at work, on or the weekends, I check the Contra Costa Times and Chronicle websites, as well as those of national news outlets, to see if anything pressing, interesting, or fun is going on in the world. So, do a lot of people. In fact, according to Time magazine, “Newspapers have more readers than ever. Their content, as well as that of newsmagazines and other producers of traditional journalism, is more popular than ever — even (in fact, especially) among young people.”
It’s just that newspapers are having a hard time finding ways to make money off all the content they provide—for free, on their websites, which consumers have come to expect and take for granted. As Time says, “according to a Pew Research Center study, a tipping point occurred last year: more people in the U.S. got their news online for free than paid for it by buying newspapers and magazines.” The idea was that newspapers and magazines would make money for the content they provided by selling ads. But newspapers haven’t been selling enough online ads. That has become even more of an issue in this tough economy with struggling businesses cutting back on their advertising budgets.
Newspapers need to find ways to make money off the content they provide. They need to stay in business and employ reporters and editors who provide that content.
Because, we do need our local newspapers, even if we’re reading them online, just as we need radio and TV stations covering local news, and just as we need local bloggers. All these outlets offer different choices and perspectives and they all complement one another in providing the information we the public so desperately want.