On the 29th of November, 2016, the city of Pittsburgh had two daily newspepers: the center-left Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the conservative Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. It was the last such day; the Trib, while keeping a couple of regional dailies going, gave up on its Pittsburgh print edition, leaving the PG with the metro market all to itself.

And now, the city of Pittsburgh has no daily newspapers: the PG is cutting back to five days a week, with online editions only on Tuesday and Saturday. This may improve the paper's bottom line, but what does it say to the rest of the world? A PG reader wrote in:

[A] paper that doesn't publish every day doesn't give nonsubscribers, out-of-town visitors or businesspeople the chance to grab a paper when they're here. And it sends a signal that we're not a major city. Hello, Amazon: We have inadequate public transportation, and our paper doesn't even print seven days a ?week.

Pittsburgh is not quite alone in its plight. Cleveland's Plain Dealer prints every day, though home delivery is available only four days a week; the Times-Picayune of New Orleans — like the Plain Dealer, owned by Advance Publications — actually dropped to a three-day-a-week schedule, but was forced to return to daily publication after Baton Rouge's Advocate began printing a daily New Orleans edition. Advance's three Alabama dailies, in Birmingham, Huntsville and Mobile, have also gone to thrice a week, and stayed there; to that extent, they are worse off than Pittsburgh. And the Blade, the PG's sister paper in Toledo, still publishes daily, for now.

I suppose what I want to know is Can it happen here? For now, I'm going with "Not likely." The Tulsa World, owned by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway conglomerate, is arguably on the soundest financial footing of any daily in the country. But Buffett promises you nothing. From the BH Media Group's landing page: "We deliver on whatever platform our customers choose, be it print, broadcast, online, mobile, social, e-mail or video."

The Oklahoman, like the World, has a billionaire behind it. It's hard to tell whether the Anschutz Corporation will keep the same sort of grip on its media properties: Anschutz is privately held, which means it can probably move faster if it feels as though it has to, but Anschutz has a definite political orientation, toward the right side of the spectrum, which might mean it would double down if the chips fall the wrong way. But the ups and downs of NewsOK.com, which has presented several faces to the public, none of them particularly attractive, are not encouraging.

And the PG has definitely made me wonder about how it's going to handle its online side. This was an actual television spot, carried on NBC affiliate WPXI, for the PG's online offerings:

If the intention was to make the older readers of the paper feel bad, it will probably succeed beyond their wildest expectations. Not that this is a good thing.

The Vent

  26 August 2018

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