The Darwinification of Local Media

Evolution is wiping out local newspapers

created Jul 18, 2019

The newspaper industry started declining in the 1970s and 1980s, years before the web was invented around 1990. Allegedly, the Toledo Blade has not made a profit, since the early 1980s, although maybe media orgs should have never been for-profits.

Newspapers enjoyed monopolies or near monopolies over local advertising for decades. The newspapers controlled the ad prices.

The local newspaper industry has been especially hit hard over the past 40 years, but it's not Craigslist fault, despite some journalists still making that claim in 2019, 24 years after Craigslist began as an email list.

It's not Google's fault. It's not Facebook's fault. It's not Big Tech's fault.

One hundred percent of the blame for the newspaper industry's demise belongs to the newspaper industry.

In 2019, I don't want ads to appear on media websites that I subscribe to. As a paying customer, I expect a better web experience than what the media orgs provide.

The counter argument, of course, is that subscribers of print newspapers saw ads. I'm not interested in using print newspapers today. I have no interest in a business model from 150 years ago.

It's archaic thinking for newspaper websites show ads to digital subscribers because print subscribers receive ads. This is one of the many ways that the newspaper industry has harmed itself.

In the future, I believe that local media orgs will exist, but the future may not include local newspapers because newspapers are too rooted in the distant past. Our future local media orgs probably do not exist today.

If the newspaper industry does not deserve the blame for its demise, then nothing is to blame except evolution. Technological evolution has caused the newspaper industry's woes. New technology gets invented, and years later, it's widely adopted, leading to dramatic changes to society.

Instead of blaming Craigslist, journalists should blame technological evolution. Blame Charles Darwin for explaining evolution to us, at least for flora and fauna.

The internet got invented around 1970. Many other application layers and services existed before the web got invented, such as email (SMTP) and Usenet (NNTP). These internet applications were used prior to 1990, but they were not mass-used. The web (HTTP/HTTPS) made the internet popular. The web introduced a mass audience to email.

Technological evolution has occurred with how we connect to the internet at home, starting with very slow dial-up modem speeds to today's high speed access that exists in most U.S. dwellings. Computers have become smaller and faster and hold more data. Cell phones became popular, and then computer tech merged with cell phones to create smartphones and so on.

How we used the web has evolved too, although maybe not for the best, in my opinion, but 2.4 billion Facebook users is nothing to ignore.

Personal websites became weblogs, which were later called blogs. Blogging software companies made creating content on the web easier, but the social media silos built even better mousetraps, at least around the concept of networking.

Failures occurred along the way. Some web businesses got supplanted by better or newer ones. Excite --> Lycos --> Yahoo --> AltaVista --> Google. LiveJournal --> MySpace --> Facebook. Xanga --> Moveable Type --> Blogger --> WordPress.

Some web businesses got acquired and disappeared. Technological evolution. It might not be as effective as natural selection, but it's a better explanation for the demise of the newspaper industry than blaming Craigslist.

Evolution suggests that it was only a matter of time before the newspaper lost its crown jewel of revenue: classified advertising. If it was not Craigslist, which became a classified ad source by accident, then someone would have created a business that specifically targeted the classified industry.

The newspaper industry should have recognized the benefits of the web and built its own web-based classified industry in the mid to late 1990s.

With the web popularizing the internet in the 1990s, it became obvious that communication, shopping, and other activities were transitioning to the internet.

If the newspaper industry had recognized the coming technological evolution sooner, then it could have been a cause for evolution instead of a victim.

On the flip side, I would be wary of local media orgs that are funded, controlled, or influenced by Google and Facebook. If this is evolution too, then hopefully, it's a part of the evolutionary process where a new change fails, leading to something better forming in the future.

A local media org that is "owned" by Facebook and Google might be worse than no local media.

Stories that I saw at Mediagazer on Jul 18, 2019:

McClatchy-grown, Google-funded Compass Experiment, a project to build new local news sites, has chosen Youngstown as its first site with four local journalists

Facebook Journalism Project announces 22 projects receiving grants between $5,000 and $25,000 to fund community-building proposals over the next six months

Tweet connected to that Mediagazer discussion:

Mathew Ingram / @mathewi: I get that local journalism efforts need money, and Facebook has plenty — and is willing to spend it. I just wish there was a bit more skepticism in pieces like these about their motivation, the long-term effects, etc.

And the media love to blast Big Tech companies, such as Google and Facebook. The media hammers Twitter less because journalists love to use Twitter. In my opinion, Twitter deserves more harsh criticism, since it might be the easiest and fastest way to spread misinformation, especially since so many journalists use Twitter.