CNN Money today repeated reports that Freedom Communications will declare bankruptcy. Freedom is one of those family owned newspaper conglomerates, and is known for owning some fairly right-wing newspapers such as the Orange County Register and the Colorado Springs Gazette.
This development just helps to illustrate that no daily newspaper is safe from the trend that will destroy old-fashioned paper dailies before long. It has been believed for a number of years now that going local might save paper dailies from oblivion. Sam Zell thought this was an ingenious plan for his Tribune-owned papers such as the LA Times. And then Zell’s Tribune declared bankruptcy. (The last I heard of Zell, whom I loathe, his creditors were hunting him down for his gargantuan incompetence.)
But, the OCR and the CS Gazette are both very locally oriented papers, and Freedom is declaring bankruptcy. The problem isn’t what they’re covering. The problem is simply that no one but old people wants paper dailies. Also, there is evidence that the very structure and model of the daily newspaper prevents it from functioning in a world of instant electronic news.
If we look at the weekly business journals that dot the landscape, for example, we see that they are doing quite well at the electronic news game. They all have daily email updates which go out to readers and contain the latest news tailored for their readers. Business journal updates contain the latest news from the wire, but also contain local business stories, which are the best part of any local business journal.
They can put out news as it happens, while dailies cannot. Dailies must constantly worry about scooping themselves. For example, when a new business story turns up, many of the dailies aren’t willing to publish the story online right away because then the reader will have already read the story by the time it turns up in the paper the next morning. Obviously, advertisers don’t like self-scooping because they want the news in the paper edition to be all new to the reader so he feels the need to look at every page. And, a paper filled with old news will eventually be deemed unnecessary altogether, which is definitely bad for the newspaper company. True, it might be possible to produce an online version of the story, and then a longer more in-depth version for the paper, but that requires more time and more staff.
So, while the weeklies crank our daily stories online and disseminate them through email and other means, the dailies often hold back on news so that the news in the morning paper appears fresh. It’s not hard to see who will win this game. The well-informed reader doesn’t need the daily to get the news, so all the news in the morning paper turns out to be old news in spite of the daily’s best efforts.
In addition, the weeklies offer in-depth analysis and lengthier coverage that only weeklies have traditionally been able to manage. Longer stories are best read in paper format, so subscribers continue to buy the weekly papers, and consider the daily news to be an added bonus. Meanwhile, the dailies continue to offer the same old short stories, but that type of news can be had through an endless array of other news sources.