A Practical Peacemaker Ponders . . .

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The Demise of The Rocky Mountain News

2/27/2009

Today brought the final edition of the Rocky Mountain News, which had been published in Denver continuously since the city's founding in 1859.  Having lived in Denver for over 35 years, I feel like I have lost a close friend.  The Rocky had been such an integral part of city life that most of us here cannot imagine Denver without it.  Foundering in red ink, the paper was put up for sale last December, and to no one's surprise, no rescuer came forward.  In fact, there weren’t even any solid offers.  Now, like most other big cities, Denver will have just one city-wide newspaper, The Denver Post, and will get just its take on what's going on.

Even worse is that "another big city newspaper bites the dust" is getting to be old news across the country.  Are we going to let things slide until we have no local newspapers at all?  Until we are left with only a few that are national in scope, perhaps The New York Times and USA Today?  Nothing against those two papers, but we need more variety, and we need local coverage written by folks who know the territory.  Perhaps as a librarian I am more keenly aware of censorship issues than my fellow citizens, but I regard having access to diverse and controversial opinions on any particular topic as so precious that it brings a lump to my throat to think about its loss.

I'm no expert on how to redesign news sources to be profitable, but I read an opinion piece recently by someone who is: Walter Isaacson, a former managing editor of Time.  If you care about disappearing newspapers, please read his article “How to Save Your Newspaper.” http://www.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,1877191,00.html

Isaacson proposes that newspapers begin to charge for their online content, instead of offering it free and then being dependent on advertisers.  Rather than requiring readers to subscribe, though, he advocates a small charge for each article accessed, perhaps 10 - 20 cents each.  He points out that the public has accepted paying 99 cents for a track on iTunes, so why not a charge for news and feature articles?  Newspapers can be more objective if dependent for their revenue at least partially on readers, rather than entirely on advertisers, he points out. 

I expect that some new form(s) of local news reporting and opinion will develop to fill the vacuum, in some consolidated format, I hope, that will be more time-efficient for readers than having to check numerous blogs.  And less sensational than advertising-driven content can easily become.  Another disadvantage of blogs and many websites is that there's no fact-checking going on; we can't be assured that information is reliable.  Old-style newspapers occasionally made errors and were taken in by hoaxes, but generally we could have confidence in their accuracy.

We'll see what develops, but if we want a diverse marketplace for ideas, less beholden to corporations, and in which journalists are paid to do their best, we may need to prepare ourselves to cough up some coins.