So what do you want – cute kitty pictures or incisive journalism?
Perceptions by Gerry Warner
Are newspapers dead?
Not if you pay heed to Warren Buffet, the third richest man in the world according to Forbes, who is currently buying newspapers because he considers them solid, long-term investments.
The “Oracle of Omaha” as he’s known in the financial world, who famously ignored the tech bubble in the 1990’s while other investors lost their shirts, says newspapers will be around for a while yet, especially in mid-sized cities not unlike Cranbrook.
But they’ve got to have the right strategy, says the billionaire, who recently bought the Omaha World-Herald, his hometown paper for $200 million and is the largest shareholder in a string of other papers in mid-sized communities. A former paper boy, Buffet was worth $72.7 billion US in 2015, and like a paper boy, knows how to count his nickels and dimes.
“I believe newspapers that intensively cover their communities will have a good future…” he said in June 2012 when announcing his latest newspaper purchase. “In towns and cities where there is a strong sense of community, there is no more important institution than the local paper.”
In the Digital Age, this may sound like heresy, but how to you argue with the third richest man in the world? This retired journalist is not arguing with Buffet even though I often despair for the the future of newspapers as the Internet juggernaut continues to decimate the profession I once loved. I believe the newspaper industry can be saved, but only if it lives up to Buffet’s strategy.
Remember what the wise, old Oracle said.“In towns and cities where there is a strong sense of community, there is no more important institution than the local paper.”
Unfortunately, I think our community is more divided than it’s strong. Remember the bitter debate over the East Hill development referendum a few years ago? The development was defeated by fewer than 40 votes, revealing a community split right down the middle. And if you talk to people on the street today the split over East Hill remains as strong as ever. So what has this got to do with the future of newspapers? Glad you asked.
I was a reporter at the local paper during the sturm and drang of the East Hill controversy and witnessed the tsunami of letters that poured in of people passionately expressing their views. So many letters poured in there wasn’t room to print them all and instead we’d tell them their letters would run in the digital edition of the paper.
No damn way was the angry response! They wanted their comments published in the print edition of the paper or they didn’t want them published at all. Having them repeated in cyber space just didn’t cut it.
Since that difficult time, I’ve often reflected on this experience whenever I hear talk of the demise of newspapers. When things really matter, people still turn to their newspapers. Good ol’ ink on paper. Something printed on newsprint that you can read, put it down, pick it up, read it again, stick it on the wall or rip it to shreds. Bits and bytes floating around cyber space are good for cute kitty pictures, but they don’t cut to the core the way print-on-paper does. It’s been part of civilization’s DNA ever since Gutenberg invented the printing press and I don’t see that changing soon.
So yes, like Warren Buffet, I see a future for newspapers. But also like Buffet, I believe newspapers need to keep doing what they do best if they’re going to survive. Here’s another thing the wise ol’ Oracle said: “Skimpy news coverage will almost certainly lead to skimpy readership.”
Many newspapers today are dedicating almost all of their resources to their digital editions and producing their print editions almost as an after-thought. So what does the public want? Cute kitty pics or incisive print-on-paper journalism that can topple presidents or defeat unneeded developments?
The choice is ours.
Gerry Warner is a retired newspaper reporter who loves his cat.