Most local print media is doomed.
With the notable and I'd say rather handsome exception of The Stranger, local print media outlets are being forced to shrink significantly or fold entirely. The Seattle Weekly and the P.I. are online-only, the Seattle Times routinely faces layoffs, and RIP CityArts.
Everybody knows why this is happening. When we all moved onto the internet, Google and Facebook ate up all the ad money. Less money in the bank meant layoffs, which meant fewer journalists, which meant a worse product, which meant fewer subscribers, which meant even less money. Rinse, repeat. That plus Trump really fucked the industry with that tariff on Canadian newsprint.
The answer for saving independent print media is obvious and boring. If you want to maintain some semblance of a democracy, subscribe to local papers (even if you hate the editorial board!) and advertise in local papers (even if your business faces criticism!). Otherwise, you won't know if your elected officials are Trumpian gun nuts, or alleged rapists, or actually kinda cool!
But with the loss of 1,800 newspapers across the country since 2004 and the loss of 7,200 journalism jobs just this year, the print apocalypse is already upon us. What does that mean for our increasingly fragile Republic?
On Tuesday at Town Hall, local journalists Erica C. Barnett and Marcus Harrison Green will join Civic Venture fellow Goldy and Media Matters fellow Matt Gertz to describe how this decline in journalism has led to our democracy's decline, and to sketch out what the future will look like when the last local paper stops printing.
In a brief phone interview, Gertz laid out the bleak vision.
So, print dies. What happens next?
What happens then is you tend to have more people following the news on their social media feeds, which is not a place they’re going to get a lot of professional news. That’s the process for getting conspiracy theories floating into a lot of your election processes.
Is there any way out?
I’m hoping to hear more about how folks in Seattle are handling it. Local journalists have founded some digital outlets, and we’ll hear about the good work they’re doing, but the size of the hole they’re trying to fill is quite substantial.
The size of the problem is quite large, and the decline has not been slackening. We’re talking about the loss of 7,200 journalism jobs over the course of this year, and that’s in a relatively good economy—an economy that’s not working for everyone, and an economy with a lot of inequality—but relatively good. And the layoffs in the journalism sector are happening at places that were supposed to be the digital saviors of the industry—Vice, HuffPost, Buzzfeed. We need to figure out if there’s a model that will work to keep these ecosystems intact.
What models are working?
The conservative news outlets are doing fine. Their model is very successful. Their model is speaking solely to the converted, and it’s backed by billionaires who want to influence the debate. Right now we’re headed into a situation where the right-wing media is going to control even more of the debate.
A very rich guy, Nick Hanauer, funds the think tank putting on this event. Do you think he can help?
That’s one way to go. It is a source of money. The Washington Post was purchased by Jeff Bezos, so they have a billionaire. The LA Times has a billionaire, the Atlantic has a billionaire. Whether that’s enough? I’m not sure how many billionaires are going to be interested in buying rural newspapers.
I think there’s some room in the nonprofit space. An outlet like ProPublica has been good at getting national financing and working with local investigative teams, but I think it will take a lot of different methods. I also think there’s some merit in looking at anti-trust policy, looking at the power of Google and Facebook, and the way they’ve been able to amass a size of the advertising market. I think one solution has to be looking into that as well.
What happens if we don't make it?
Stories go untold, and people don’t find out about what is happening outside their own daily experiences.