The King is Dead

Someday, we will all look back and reflect on how significant it was that we lived through the death of the American newspaper industry. Right now, however, it is pretty traumatic for those of us who grew up with a lifelong love/hate relationship with our various local and metro newspapers.

On the one hand, we can’t help but feel like they are are getting exactly what they deserved. On the other, it will be a very sad day when we walk up to the newsstand or vending box and see it empty, as it will remain from that day forward.

Aside from the human pain of thousands of people losing their jobs in the newspaper industry as it slow-motion implodes before our eyes, there are the very real implications for our society and the milestone this represents for our post-development culture. Regarding the former, we have to ask the question, “Who will be watching those in power since the newspapers won’t be around to do so?” “The TV news” is not a viable answer. For the latter, we must ponder the ramifications and implications in this fundamental shift in how people acquire, view and consume information says much about our state of development.

I write about these issues today because a monumental thing happened this last weekend. For the first time since I’ve been traveling to or living in this area, the major metro daily, the San Diego Union Tribune (UT), has been overshadowed by the “local” newspaper, The North County Times (NCT). While the NCT’s ad space is down, it still looks like a phone book compared to the UT. While the UT has a token one page business section, the NCT, which has never been a major source for business news, still boasts a few pages. Even in national and international coverage, the NCT makes good use of Associated Press and other news wire stories, and now carries more volume of that news than the UT. And, of course, the local coverage: community events, high school sports, etc., the very core of what makes a local paper “local,” still fills the NCT.

And that’s the real story, the lead, the headline. The fundamental unit of news, like politics, is local. Businesses – meaning print publications, online and handheld device information distribution companies and organizations – that provide local news will remain viable, no matter what. Local people will always want to learn about local events and issues affecting them personally. The level of detail required to fully understand what the city is doing about the landslide, the state is doing about unemployment checks or the yards gained by the local high school’s star halfback is fundamentally beyond what a 30 minute television newscast can present.

An easy way to think about it is school level information. Communities cluster and aggregate around children and their schools. The largest aggregation is the high school.

Thus, in the new world that lies beyond this milestone on the path of development, the lowest common denominator, the smallest (and perhaps largest) viable unit of news providing organization is at the high school level. If you can deliver news about what is happening at the high school level, then you have a viable news gathering and distribution organization. News and information at that level demand accuracy and relevance. If you don’t know what you are writing or talking about at the high school level, you are quickly and completely discredited. That size of aggregation, that scope of geography, that level of social issues and that granularity of information is now the reality barrier, the truth limit for news and information in our society.

Beyond that scale, above that level, news and information become diluted, colored, tainted, skewed, distorted and irretrievably altered by the bombast=credibility blogosphere and the various agendas of those who control state, regional, national and international media. Unfortunately, in this new era where more people have more access to more information more quickly than at any other time in our species’ history, you really can’t believe anything beyond the weather, the sports scores and high school granularity level news.

The downside is that unless you see it with your own eyes, you have no reliable, fact-based information as to what is happening at any level above what you are likely to personally witness, e.g., a local theatrical production, a city council meeting or a junior high swimming meet. The upside is that the entrepreneurs who realize that an entirely new universe of news and information consolidation, or “roll-up” awaits have an entirely new market opportunity with completely different bounds, rules and limits than their predecessors.

The King is dead. Long live the King.

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