Cottage Media Industries Rise From Newspaper Rubble

In a way, we're lucky in the newspaper department here in Boston. The local dailies are merely paper-shredding, as the Boston Herald whittles away at itself, and the Boston Globe completes its umpteenth buyout of news staffers.

Elsewhere, papers are folding like origami, from Seattle to Denver to Cincinnati to — who knows what town next.

The good news is that several cottage industries have sprung up in the midst of the current newspaper rubble. The first growth area is "Chinstroking Through the Ages About American Newspapers."

For starters you've got your Thomas Jefferson classic about his preferring newspapers without government to government without newspapers. Then there's the colonial era newspaper motto that "A free press maintains the majesty of the people."

And who can forget yellow journalism mogul Joseph Pulitzer's immortal, "Our republic and its press will rise or fall together."

Nowadays, it’s falling more often than not.

The second growth industry spawned by the decline of newspapers is "Chinstroking Solutions for the Newspaper Crisis."

For instance:

Solution No. 1: Micropayments, whereby readers pony up a few cents for one article or a few bucks for one week of access to the paper's online version.

Solution No. 2: Macropayments. One school of thought says the Globe, for instance, should jack up the cost of its print edition – from 75 cents to $2 for the daily, and $5 dollars from $2.50 on Sunday. Circulation might drop, the thinking goes, but revenues could rise.

Then there's Solution No. 3, in which the newspaper starts charging for its online edition. Of course that’s also a recipe for Webicide when the online edition turns into a ghost town.

Solution No. 4 is... your guess is good as mine.

Which brings us to growth industry No. 3 on the back of dying dailies: "Chinstroking About Newspapers and Democracy."

One historian says that losing newspapers will change our political system, and not for the better. A recent Princeton study seems to back that up, finding that after the Cincinnati Post expired, fewer locals voted and fewer local candidates challenged incumbents.

But media critic Jack Shaffer will have none of that. "I can imagine," Shaffer writes, "citizens acquiring sufficient information to vote or poke their legislators with a pitchfork even if all the newspapers in the country fell into a bottomless recycling bin tomorrow."

Add to that a Pew Research Center poll in which a majority of Americans apparently didn’t care whether their local newspaper lives or dies.

Just one more life-and-death issue for the newspaper business to worry about.

John Carroll is WBUR's senior media analyst and a mass communication professor at Boston University.

This program aired on April 1, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.


More from WBUR

Listen Live