Think the end is near for your local daily broadsheet? Do you believe the doom and gloom that newspapers will never be viable again, and that journalism is a risky profession given that the industry is disappearing? Former Peak editor-in-chief Marc Edge presents a compelling argument for why we need to relax and accept that newspapers are resilient and they’re here to stay in his book, Greatly Exaggerated: The Myth of the Death of Newspapers.
Edge presents a meticulously researched account of the economic history of the newspaper, with a particular focus on the period surrounding the 2008 recession. He debunks the popular myth that newspapers are no longer profitable. Despite this optimism surrounding the financial state of newspaper publishers, Edge concedes that the adaptability and continued profitability of many publications has often led to layoffs as papers cut labour costs to remain in business — but after a period of reducing costs, these same papers are often able to expand again.
Blogs such as Newspaper Death Watch, which sprang up in 2007, began to chronicle what they saw as the decline of the newspaper. But after a few closures and mergers, the blogs had little to write about. Currently there are 11 papers listed on Newspaper Death Watch’s R.I.P. list, but as Edge explains in great detail, many of those closures were caused by other factors, or in some cases, the papers were already in decline long before the recession.
Many of the papers that went under were the second-place daily in their city or were operating under a joint operating agreement with another paper. Often, the smaller paper in a city was squeezed out of the market due to lowered demand, where the larger paper remained. This is not a new concept, but in the past decade it has begun to be seen as the demise of the newspaper as an institution. In the case of joint operating agreements, where two newspapers share office space, distribution, and profits, it often made economic sense for a struggling paper to close and continue receiving half of the profits from the more successful publication.
Concentrated ownership and related legislation in Canada and the United States is also dealt with in depth, while Edge explains the many exceptions made and the dangers of further media conglomeration. In Canada, our media ownership is concentrated with a few major corporations controlling the newspapers across the country, a local example being The Vancouver Sun and The Province who share office space and owners.
As newspapers began to strategize in the early 2000s and after the 2008 recession, they looked to online content as a potential new revenue stream and something that could help them attract readers. The one mistake they made, as Edge shrewdly explains, was not charging for online content. Many papers originally balked at the idea of a paywall, but once the New York Times implemented theirs with great success, most others followed suit.
Another popular belief that Edge debunks is that because young people are not reading newspapers, they never will, and therefore the number of readers will continue to decline. Edge points out that young people have never been voracious newspaper readers, and the trend is for them to become more interested and engaged in their civic life as they get older, when they will then turn to newspapers for more in-depth coverage of local issues.
What makes newspapers so resilient is their adaptability, but also their ability to provide in-depth, investigative, and local content to readers. What you find in your local daily newspaper is not the same as what you can read online, and because of this, newspapers provide a much-needed service that isn’t likely to disappear anytime soon.