There’s been a lot of buzz lately with the recent announcement that Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway had sold off all of their newspaper interests to Lee Enterprises headquartered in Davenport, Iowa. I wasn’t too surprised to see that happen because Lee has actually had full management control of BH Media for the last 18 months. However, I have been surprised at the public response.
I’m surprised because it seems people actually care, and they recognize that it’s not a good thing for Omaha or any of the community newspapers that went along with the sale. Lee’s history has been to cut expenses, then cut some more. In Nebraska, what were once strong daily newspapers in Lincoln, Fremont and Columbus are mere shells of what they used to be.
There are a lot of misconceptions about the newspaper industry these days. True, it’s a challenging time for the industry. It’s been a perfect storm of sorts, starting with the decline of retail brick and mortar stores. Retailers have announced more than 9,200 store closings in 2019, and the projections are an additional 14,000 will close in 2020. In addition, it’s estimated that between 20 and 25 percent of all shopping malls will close by 2022. You can thank your good friends at Amazon and eBay for much of this decline.
Of course, the internet has obviously had an impact, too. There’s a common belief that social media and Facebook can serve as a primary advertising medium. This medium is dominated by Google, Facebook and Amazon with nearly 70 percent of all digital spending in the United States. That’s about $73 billion between the three companies. All of those dollars have come at the expense of traditional media.
One common misperception is that all newspapers are dying. It’s kind of funny, but a little bit sad that when I meet someone for the first time, and I tell them what I do for a living, they often give me kind of a sad look, probably thinking that I’ll be in the unemployment line soon.
When in fact, most newspapers are not dying, but evolving. Local community newspapers, such as the Pilot-Tribune and Enterprise, while no doubt are being impacted by the same factors as the big dailies, are faring better. That’s because local newspapers are just that — local. In fact, what some would call hyper-local. We strive to only cover and carry news from our hometowns and county.
Newspapers actually have so many more tools today than even a decade ago, it gives them an opportunity to compete with all other electronic media. The Enterprise has an electronic newsletter that is sent to digital subscribers five days a week, and also brings the breaking news to those readers whenever big news happens. We can now offer video programing as well.
So what will the buyout of the World-Herald mean to its many readers? Well, hopefully there won’t be any more layoffs of reporters, and the news continues to flow to their readers as normal. If Lee follows the path it’s taken with many of it’s other publications, we may see less and less local news for the Omaha area, which would be bad for the entire region.
How about your local newspapers here in Blair and Washington County? Well, we’ll just keep chugging along with our best efforts to keep you being a “know it all” when it comes to information about your hometown. However, we can only continue our complete coverage with your support, and the support of our local businesses who advertise with us. Please thank them for continuing to support your local newspaper, as we thank you for being a loyal reader who supports local community journalism.
Mark Rhoades is the publisher of Enterprise Media Group.