We must rethink the industry’s initial response to the Internet. The original instinct of newspapers then was to offer free in digital form what they were charging for in print…
If a citizenry cares little about its community, it will eventually care little about its newspaper. In a very general way, strong interest in community affairs varies inversely with population size and directly with the number of years a community’s population has been in residence.
– Warren Buffet, Letter to Publishers and Editors
Something else that stood out for me while reading his letter is to discover he reads five daily papers every day. It’s one thing if they are dailies like my city’s papers which can be read in 10 minutes, but to get through the NY Times or the Washington Post alone would be an accomplishment.
Setting aside my jealousy over the time Buffet has to read newspapers, I agree with him that newspapers need to rethink their response to the Internet, but I also think they need to heed his words about community.
I have lived in several small cities now, and the quality of the local papers has been all over the map. It is true that more people in the smaller cities care more about what’s happening in the community than in larger cities. A part of this may because the smaller cities have shorter newspapers and need to be more aware of quality than quantity, which allows people to get more interested in the stories and community.
It may also be because there are fewer options to get news from. In Whitehorse, where I have lived for nearly 15 years, there is local radio, but no real local television apart from a 30 minute segment that covers the entireity of the North[^1}. Apart from the two local dailies[^2] and the radio stations, there are no other sources for news. The newspapers update their websites, but there is no alternative websites like there are most other areas. I have a feeling this is most likely true for other cities of comparable size, which is part of the reason Buffet is targeting them.
Buffet insists that the more the people care for its community, the more they will care for a newspaper. I believe you can change that equation around and it may be even more true.
The more a newspaper cares for its citizens, the more people will care for its community.
Like other media outlets (movies, music), people want easy access to the content, and they want quality content. When I go through the local paper here, Kelowna Capital News, I am faced with more advertisements than news. The website is only slightly more accessible. In contrast, the Yukon News is completely accessible for easy reading. By coming across a cleaner website, I am more likely to pick up the paper version for a read at the coffee shop, which will help me become more interested in the community.
As it is now, when people have the option to read a paper full of advertisements and low quality content, their eyes will quickly move onto other activities that may have the same low quality content but few/no ads.
I wonder if Buffet can help these newspapers develop their quality content while still remaining profitable.