Thursday, May 02, 2019

Rural editors dispute Buffett's forecast that all but national newspapers are 'toast'; but social media threaten, so papers need to distinguish selves as reliable sources, Cross says

Billionaire Warren Buffett, who owns more than 30 U.S. dailies, said in a recent interview with Yahoo Finance that most newspapers are "toast," due to the internet sucking away advertising revenue. Though he said The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal would likely live on, he predicted that other newspapers are "going to disappear."

Dave Bradley
In an open letter to Buffett, columnist Dave Bradley, writing for the Aurora News-Register in Nebraska, disagrees, saying rural newspapers provide a service to communities unmatched by any other resource: "The way I see it, the News-Register is anything but toast. Take the weekly edition clean away and our community, our county, would literally be in the dark when it involves news, features, photos, editorials and so much more. Who else is going to cover all of our local sports teams, week in and week out, even when it’s 105 humid degrees in the summer time during Legion ball, to -25 degree wind chill a few years back on senior day during a Nebraska-Iowa football game?"

"Mr. Bradley is more correct than Mr. Buffett, who doesn't seem to be familiar with rural weeklies as he is with small dailies," said University of Kentucky Extension Journalism Professor Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, publisher of The Rural Blog. "There will always be a demand for news of a locality, and for reliable reporting of it. That being said, rural newspapers need to realize that social media are becoming alternative sources of local news, and newspapers need to promote that they do journalism, the essence of which is a discipline of verification, while social media have no verification and very little discipline."

In The Canadian Record in Canadian, Texas, Editor and Publisher Laurie Ezzell Brown agrees in an editorial that newspapers are struggling, but not because the work is less important or needed, but "because fewer people take time to read and think and be informed, because our collective sense of civic engagement is slowly eroding, and frankly, because the small businesses that support community newspapers are struggling, too, and that essential source of advertising revenue for newspapers is dwindling."

In other words, newspapers' decline is a symptom of larger problems. And, she notes, "if Buffet's assessment is right, you ain't seen nothing yet."

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