Saturday, August 2, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Expert says death of newspapers will make small towns more like Philadelphia

Expert says death of newspapers will make small towns more like Philadelphia

NYU prof Clay Shirky has made himself into a New Media guru for thinking more clearly than anyone else about the death of newspapers and what it all means. He understands that the loss of what he calls "the economics of scarcity" -- the ability of newspapers in the 20th Century to charge local firms high rates for ads because their were no other options -- is a problem with no real solution. I was struck by this Shirky prediction, however:

Even with that experimentation, he added, the ongoing shrinkage of newspapers is likely to create a “giant hole” that will not be filled for some time. He said he has a vision of communities of 10,000 people or fewer becoming rife with “casual endemic corruption,” as newspapers are no longer able to fulfill their traditional watchdog roles.

In other words, small towns with diminished or no newspapers will be...just like Philadelphia. Except that from the mid-1970s through the 1990s, Philadelphia's two well-staffed newspapers won 20 Pulitzer Prizes, and yet that was also a golden era of political corruption here in Philly. So perhaps the interplay is a little more complicated.

Also, newspapers in towns of 10,000 or less are still doing pretty well economically (in part because "the economy of scarcity" still exists in these places). The papers that are struggling are in metro areas like Chicago, Detroit, and Philadelphia. Good thing there's little or no graft in those places.*

* Sarcasm.

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