Dynamist Blog

Life in a Declining Industry

This long American Journalism Review article on troubles at the LA Times made me think about the question media critics consistently dodge: What strategies are realistically available when you're caught in a declining industry, which the metropolitan daily newspaper most assuredly is? How do you sell localism--local news, local advertising, locally produced articles on national subjects--in a market saturated with cheap substitutes whose quality has been tested in national competition? What niche can you fill?

These are not questions that can be answered by referring to "good" journalism or "bad" journalism. The local newspaper faces the same essential problem as the independent bookstore, the local theater group (competing with the movies and TV), the local music scene, and so forth. What once was good--or good enough--no longer is. Newspapers, journalists, and their critics have to start by recognizing that circumstances have changed and strategies must change as well. Unfortunately, well-trained daily journalists tend to believe that the old ways were "ethical" and anything else (including the strong voices found in most magazines) is not.

Far be it from me to defend the decisions of newspaper managers, many of which (and whom) seem idiotic, but this sort of mindless "oh poor us" coverage doesn't add to readers' understanding. Morale is going to be bad in a declining business, but that doesn't mean ignoring the decline will reverse it.

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