Is 'de-newspaperization' hurting cities?

No newspaper, no information for a city's poorest neighborhoods. Really?
Written by Andrew Nusca, Contributor

Philadelphia Daily News writer Will Bunch recently published a curious post about the "de-newspaperization" of U.S. cities -- that is, the decline of the print newspaper industry.

That's a story that has been written before, of course. But his correlation of that with the decline of American industrial might (and urban economic prosperity) is a new angle I haven't yet seen.

He writes of mass layoffs at the Cleveland Plain Dealer, a newspaper of roughly 300,000 readers in the U.S. state of Ohio. Emphasis mine:

The Plain Dealer newspaper will next week kick off its plan to reduce its home delivery to only three days a week (including Sunday), which will reduce the flow of information in poorer neighborhoods were Internet access is lagging, like the streets where [three women] were kidnapped. [...]

For more than 40 years, we've seen America's once-great cities dying from neglect, from bad policies and worse politicians, and from the greed that moved people's jobs out of town and then across the sea -- but things might have been even worse if some great journalists hadn't been there to occasionally yell, "Timber!" Now even that legacy of the Industrial Revolution is coming to an end. Now we can only wonder: If a smokestack falls in the city and no one is there to record it, does it make a sound?

Bunch's argument, like so many journalists before him, is that newspapers are essential tools of free speech and democracy because they fundamentally provide a counter-weight to the self-interested messages promoted by elected officials. This is a foundational belief of the profession.

But his point about lagging Internet access is quite interesting. As the business model for so many papers crumbles, are city citizens worse off? Does a lack of home Internet access fail to replace the printed paper? Is it even reasonable to think that those people would have purchased the printed newspaper anyway?

The city of Cleveland has a population of roughly 400,000 people; its metropolitan area counts just over two million. Even at its quoted circulation of 1.3 million weekly readers, that's just half of everyone in the immediate area that readers the Plain Dealer.

At $130 to $242 per year -- versus the often free Internet, accessible via smartphone -- is it really reasonable to think that the region's dominant newspaper is actually providing information to its poorest residents?

Or is it all in our heads?

Photo: Tom Hart/Flickr

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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