by Kevin Slimp, stateofnewspapers.com
So it seems New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet just pronounced most of the newspaper industry dead within the next five years. I guess we should all just shut down our presses, pack up our bags, and head home. Well, don’t hurry. You still have five years, give or take.
What is it about metro newspaper editors, CEOs of newspaper groups and deans of schools of journalism that make them so gun-ho about predicting the death of newspapers?
I’ve told the story so many times, I’m tired of telling it. But as Joel Washburn, publisher of The McKenzie (Tennessee) Banner told me just five days ago, “Kevin, you were right and everyone else was wrong ten years ago. I haven’t forgotten.”
It was ten years ago, give or take a couple of months, I spent the day with a noted dean at a noted school of journalism and was asked the question, “Do you think there will be any newspapers left in America in ten years?”
My affirmative response was met with disagreement. “I don’t,” he said. “Not a single newspaper. Why do you think there will be?”
“Because,” I paused for dramatic effect, “if there’s not one, I’ll start one and make a fortune.”
Now and then, when I’m speaking at a newspaper conference, someone will tell me I should have shirts made that say, “I was right!” Perhaps I should have.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have anything against Dean Baquet. I wouldn’t know him if he ran over me in a pickup truck. He’s saying what so many have said over the past ten or fifteen years, “Just give them ___ years and they’ll be gone.”
I first read about his statement in The Hill, which included this quote from Baquet, “I’m not worried about Los Angeles and New York. I don’t know what the model is for covering the school boards in Newark, N.J. That makes me nervous,” he said.”
Again, I don’t know Baquet and have no bone to pick. But to assume Newark, New Jersey is small-town, America just goes to show how out-of-touch newspaper executives are these days.
Most newspapers aren’t in places like New York City or even Newark, New Jersey. They’re in towns like McKenzie, Tennessee, Fergus, Ontario, Worcester, Virginia, Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and Winona, Texas. These are all places I’ve visited recently with newspapers that won’t be closing in the next five years.
Let’s all jump on the bandwagon! Let’s shout, “Newspapers are dead!” It’s been the popular thing to do for the past twelve years or so.
A young woman I visited just last week at a small-town newspaper summed up the thoughts of a lot of folks in the 10,000 plus newspapers in the U.S. and Canada. “I got tired of going to press association conventions every year and hearing that we were going to be dead in another two or three years, so I just quit going.”
Joey Young, a young publisher of several papers in Kansas, wrote to me, “In communities where there is local ownership that cares and puts out a quality product, then there will continue to be newspapers that are vital to their communities.”
Dale Gentry, publisher of The Jefferson City (Tennessee) Standard-Banner, looks at it this way: “Though no one can accurately predict the future, I believe newspapers – independently-owned ones that cover their communities well – will remain in business for many years to come. I’ve heard predictions like this before. We were all supposed to be out of business by 2000, then 2019. In places like Jefferson County, Tennessee – and many, many others across the U.S. – the newspaper is still well-supported, vital to the community, and read thoroughly. I don’t see that changing any time soon.”
So here’s my offer. I would like to make a wager with Dean Banquet. I’m not angry. Not picking a fight. I just wish I’d made that bet ten years ago. Everybody was betting against me back then.
I will bet that most newspapers in the U.S. will not be dead in five years. Tell you what, let’s make it six. I’ll give Dean the benefit of the doubt.
Just for the record, the number of newspapers in the U.S. is not that different than ten years ago. When they add up all the newspapers that have closed (didn’t Gatehouse close, er, merge, 32 newspapers in New England two weeks ago?), they never seem to mention the new papers popping up across the land. You can ask Joey Young about those.
Now, who wants to design the shirt?