The decline of local newspapers seems to be the result of a perfect storm. There is the rise of the internet where people get information for “free.” Newspapers have struggled to find a business model that provides a sufficient stream of income in this new environment. Then there is the shift of economic power from the industrial sector to finance. Traditionally the industrial/agricultural sectors represented the largest areas of wealth. Now it is banks and hedge funds. Our own local paper is part of a bundle of papers owned by a hedge fund. Journalism is the last thing on these new owners’ minds. Finally there is the atomization of the public square. People now seek their news from a source that will parrot their own thinking. Facebook friends are regrettably more and more the most trusted source of information. Whatever tribe you belong to there is a cable channel or website or blog that will reinforce your view of the world. There is less and less room for a community resource like a newspaper.
Chris Mathiesen sent a follow up comment to his earlier observations. It appears below.]
How did it get to the point where I was paying $273.50 for 13 weeks of the Saratogian (not including a gratuity for the very reliable delivery person)? It was partly out of habit. I was reading the Saratogian since I was a kid. It used be a good source of information about our community, especially during the Fred Eaton/Gannett days. There used to be a staff of locally based reporters and editors who understood Saratoga Springs. I relied on other papers for coverage of regional, state, national and international stories but I was confident that the Saratogian provided reliable local news.
On Friday, November 22, 1963, John. Kennedy was assassinated. His death was announced at 2:00 PM EST. The Saratogian, which was an afternoon newspaper in those days, had their front page hitting the streets by 3:00 PMthat day with a short story in bold letters announcing the president’s death. Compare that with today’s paper which is printed in Colonie and includes fewer local stories on topics that took place days earlier.
There was a time when most Saratogians read the Saratogian. I know because I used to help my friend with his paper route when I was a kid and I used to have to take over my son’s paper route for six weeks every summer during the nineties so that he could attend an academic program. Nearly every house received the paper. Reading that paper was a community experience. That’s no longer the case and that’s a shame.
Many communities across the country have lost their local paper. We haven’t actually lost ours yet but the Saratogian no longer provides the coverage of our community that it used to do. This ‘local news desert’ has terrible ramifications. Without news, how do residents stay informed about local government and other important community issues? How do citizens stay informed so that they can make responsible decisions when they go to the polls? How do you find individuals willing to make the commitments necessary to become involved in their community or run for office?
Albany and Schenectady both have good sources of local news with the Times Union and the Daily Gazette respectively. But, as Rex Smith said recently, the TU staff is not large enough to adequately cover Saratoga Springs. We live in a City which is one of the most successful in the entire northeast with one glaring deficiency-local media coverage.