When A-E was a fledgling newspaper reporter at the Democrat and Chronicle in the mid-1960s, about half of respondents to a national survey said they got their daily news from television. That was an indication of how shallow people were because only three networks, the so-called big three of ABS, CBS and NBC, had brief news programs. That was pre-internet and cable news.
The times have changed since then. Consider this a not-very bold prediction about the potentially final staggering steps for certain newspapers and television stations, once seemingly impregnable institutions.
The increasing number of viewers who watch television over the Internet pay far less than we shell out to satellite and cable providers. The result: more than a million households in the past year dumped cable and satellite television. That’s double the rate from previous years. That’s also lots of greenbacks.
Brief technology history: Remember when families realized they no longer needed telephone land lines? Lots of your friends across the country now use only cell phones. Remember A-E’s sentence about watching TV over the Internet? Think about the proliferation of devices that permit video from the Internet. An estimated 42 million consumers now use boxes from Apple, game consoles, Blu-ray players and smart TVs from Samsung and LG.
Demographics for smart TV users are predictable: Technically-savvy people in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s lead the list. But 77-year-old A-E has a smart Samsung TV that, among other capabilities, alerts him when boss Neal’s calling. Even A-E, who has the technical sophistication of your neighbor’s cat, easily rides the technology wave.
Netflix and YouTube production companies, among others, create new television content. Imagine a world where Amazon, Microsoft, Apple and Google design and sell devices that control the flow of lots of information over the Internet. Question: What’s the technology identified as the potential Black Plague of newspapers and magazines? The same boogeyman that gives television station owners fits: the Internet.
Most people who work with Amazon-founder Jeff Bazos consider him an opportunistic genius. He’s the guy who bought the Washington Post for entrepreneurial chump change.
Another billionaire renown for investment acumen dissents only slightly from A-E’s pessimistic outlook for the printed word. “I have long told you … that the circulation, advertising and profits of the newspaper industry overall are certain to decline,” Warren Buffett told Berkshire Hathaway Inc. stockholders a few years ago. But, he continued, “I believe that papers delivering comprehensive and reliable information to tightly-bound communities … will remain viable for a long time.”
That statement was remembered after he bought the Roanoke Times while hundreds of unappealing broadsheets foundered.
Buffett began his business career at age 14 delivering the Omaha World-Herald. He bought the newspaper in 2011.
His first newspaper purchase was the Buffalo News in 1977.
Buffett likes publications in economically robust communities. Roanoke and surrounding Southwestern Virginia are booming.
The New York Southern Tier isn’t, of course, but publications strung along the Pennsylvania border, including The Evening Tribune, get by because each provides local news. Ever watch regional television news? Not much competition for newspapers there.
What does that mean to A-E’s favorite newspaper? A-E isn’t certain but the only way news junkies can get real news of local school and sports plus municipal board meetings is with broadsheets. So with a little luck, newspapers, at least for a while, won’t dissolve into dim recollections for people like A-E and news junkies who want deeper understanding of local events.
Wistful nostalgia may vary among former print journalists but the look forward doesn’t doesn’t anticipate exponential growth.
Two obvious caveats surround this gloomy analysis: Nobody has 20/20 foresight about what’s around the economic bend into terra incognito. Second, you get what you pay for: Nobody paid this retired banker more than the price of today’s Tribune for this assessment.
A-E’s wood-fired computer cooks this weakly column from Canisteo.