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Devaluing the news and the companies that deliver it

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Or, valuing the readers and the intellectual property that satisfies them.

There is a story today in the Washington Post by Paul Farhi titled “Is local reporting in a death spiral? Digital-age economics make the viability of coverage a tough sell.” You don’t need to read the rest of that article to get the gist. Yes, the death spiral has been trending downward for many years now. The article is about BH Media that is owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway. It’s about a small circulation paper of 10,000 readers, the Manassas News and Messenger.

In my life as a publisher, I have had magazines with 125,000 highly qualified readers. I have written articles for digital media with 2 million readers and more. I owned and operated a custom publishing company that targeted very selective audiences for a limited number of advertisers that wanted to reach them. The number fluctuates driven by different variables.

Consider the business case for news delivery.

The assumption is that people need and want the news about their communities that range from local to national and everything in between.

In the older paradigm when news was delivered via print media, readers had to wait for the news to be gathered, written, prepared, printed and delivered in hard copy. There was a cycle to that process. Daily newspapers were on a faster cycle than various types of monthly magazines. Readers of all sorts have finite attention span and discretionary time to consume. Their channel choices have always been theirs to make among a plethora of offerings.

Among that audience, there is a subset that places value on reading slivers of the news. Some readers care much about the quality of what they read, especially when it comes to news about government, business, disasters, and events that have direct bearing on their lives.

One problem with news publishing is that publishers commingled news and entertainment. Some readers would rather spend their time being entertained than being informed.

The burden of proving value and generating revenue to cover the cost of news production while also delivering an acceptable profit margin is on the publisher. Publishers must convince readers and advertisers to pay for a part of production in the form of subscription fees and advertising revenue.

Digital media has introduced many more competing channels of entertainment and news. The channel is flooded, and people know it and take advantage. Why pay for intellectual property that you can get for free?

The business of news production has become a free for all. The consumption process is a free for all. Let the readers beware because stuff that is free has exceedingly less quality and less value.

The digital age is still changing the economy and environment in which we live.

As a custom publisher, I learned that highly prized wealthy Americans can be reached by highly financed producers who want to pay to reach them. The rule in publishing remains, audience reach is not readership. Readership happens only when the content, the intellectual property, is of superior quality no matter what the product type is supposed to be.

One outcome from the present trend is that wealthy audiences will be afforded high quality intellectual property, and the masses must consume garbage.

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