Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, February 2, 2024

Book review: Two books examine state of US newspaper industry

You were a bit pressed for time last night and you missed the city council meeting.

You figured you were covered, though. You’d read about it in the newspaper – or not. The local paper isn’t as staffed as it once was, nor as thick, maybe not even entirely local. And with these two books, you’ll learn why this is so and how the newspaper industry is adapting.

In the last two decades, you may’ve noticed a change in your larger local paper. In “Hedged: How Private Investment Funds Helped Destroy American Newspapers and Undermine Democracy,” author Margot Susca lays the blame on one thing: money.

Not so long ago, as you may know, private investment funds like Fortress Investment Group, Alden Global Capital and Chatham Asset Management began buying up newspapers of all sizes. Susca says “they are not alone” but they are the ones who “have sat atop this private fund newspaper plutocracy as owners...”

Various firms spent $20 billion in 2007 to acquire newspapers. In the ensuing 11 years, $10 trillion was spent on mergers and acquisitions.

“Power in the newspaper market changed and shrank into a handful of companies,” Susca says, in “[a] dizzying frenzy of M&A....” Formerly family owned papers were purchased and closed. Large newsroom staffs were gutted in layoffs and buyouts. Subscriptions fell. Local coverage suffered for it.

In the midst of what she says “cannot exist under private investment fund control,” there are beacons of light that offer some optimism. In “What Works in Community News” by Ellen Clegg and Dan Kennedy, you’ll see how newspaper staffs have reclaimed that which their towns and neighborhoods need.

Here, you’ll read about a newspaper in New Jersey that’s partnered with a TV station to bring local and state news to its readers. You’ll learn of a newspaper that focuses on local immigrants, and others that have re-energized Minneapolis newsrooms.

You’ll see how new journalists are being nurtured and taught, thanks to a countrywide service program. Learn about newspapers that exist because of business sponsors, grants, ads, donations or a mixture of these.

Read about a Massachusetts newspaper with an online presence that vastly outdoes that of the competition in town. Find out about a small newspaper that hires staff to reflect its community’s racial balance. Read about cooperative ownership, community ownership and a paper that was mostly run by freelancers for a while.

You remember the days when your father read the paper, front to back, with breakfast or after work. Was a time when your grandma got recipes and dress patterns from a newspaper ad. Things are different today, but the role of your local newsroom is more important than ever – especially now, in this election year.

If you’re a concerned citizen and staying informed is key to living in your community, supporting your neighbors and knowing what’s happening in your hometown, you owe yourself to read both of these books, perhaps in tandem.

You’ll see that having a healthy, thriving local newspaper is absolutely a pressing matter.

Terri Schlichenmeyer’s reviews of business books are read in publications throughout the U.S. and Canada.