Making Something Happen in Journalism

Community newspapers should survive, so let’s make sure that happens:

Whatever he’s doing, Buffett’s newspaper collection is growing. Berkshire would pay $140 million and make $445 million in loans to Media General in return for its newspapers — everything except the Tampa (Fla.) Tribune and the company’s 18 network-affiliated TV stations.

“I know the dailies,” Buffett said. “They’re all doing OK, to varying degrees, and I think they’ll do even better when we get our people in there. They’re keepers.”

Berkshire has owned the Buffalo (N.Y.) News since 1977, the days when he said newspapers were “enormously valuable” because of their near-monopoly on advertisers’ dollars and readers’ time. That view has evolved as digital media captured more revenue and eyeballs, but when Buffett purchased the World-Herald Co. in December he again said that some newspapers have a positive future.

He pledged to buy more, and he said Thursday that the Media General newspapers have the right ingredients. “They’re in good communities,” and their readers care about their communities. “People buy papers to learn something that they don’t know that they want to know.”

I’m just about done, as I’ve mentioned before, listening to people in newspaper ownership/control positions whine about newspapers dying. Look, if you don’t want them to die then there are a couple of very simple things you can do, like invest in them as if they’re real things and not just another part of the portfolio, recognize a large part of their value comes from consistency, and capitalize on that.

You want to own newspapers, you can either do that or you can keep making pointless format changes every three months to confuse and annoy people, shit on your customers in the trades, whine about Craigslist, and lay off reporters so as to increase the profit margin of an already profitable business.

The former is more likely to be successful in doing what you say you want to do, which is to keep newspapers alive as a valid platform for journalism, even if it’s just one of a number of valid platforms.