Print is dead. Print is dying. Newspapers are “toast.” We’ve all heard some iteration of this, and it makes print journalists think about jumping ship.
But as more media becomes concentrated online, and local and national newspaper prices soar to make up for a loss in advertising revenue, at least one media expert is encouraging readers to opt for ink.
“Newspapers have become what one scholar in England called ‘keystone media,’ because they’re the ones dictating the news agenda for the community,” says UVA Department of Media Studies Assistant Professor Christopher Ali. “If you’re interested in local news, you gotta keep picking up the newspaper.”
That’s becoming harder across the country—and here in Charlottesville—because of surging price tags. While C-VILLE Weekly is a free publication, and Charlottesville Tomorrow provides free local news online, the cost of a Daily Progress print subscription has almost doubled from this time last year, according to at least one subscriber’s bill. It showed rates jumping from approximately $265 for the print and online product in 2018 to $478 per year, starting in July.
Publisher Peter Yates did not respond to multiple requests for comment, but in a letter to subscribers he wrote, “To continue to produce high quality journalism, in print and online, we must adjust our rates to reflect the cost of doing business while continuing to offer the lowest rate possible.”
The Progress is owned by Berkshire Hathaway, a $210 billion company owned by business magnate and billionaire Warren Buffett—who was the one who recently said that newspapers are “toast” and “going to disappear.”
The Daily Progress obviously isn’t alone. A NiemanLab report published in late January found that the cost of newspapers has more than doubled from a decade ago, and also notes that if publishers didn’t establish the more-than-substantial price hikes, “they’d employ even fewer journalists and be in even worse shape today.”
An annual seven-day print subscription to The New York Times will now set you back more than $1,000 in most of the country, and The Boston Globe comes in at $750. Folks who want to read a physical copy of The Washington Post every day are doling out approximately $650 a year, according to NiemanLab.
The organization also cited a recently-published paper in Journalism Studies, a peer-reviewed academic journal, which studied 25 large American newspapers between 2008 and 2016, and found that seven-day print subscriptions now cost an average of $510 a year, and subscribers are paying an additional $293 on average to have their papers delivered.
“What I’m seeing is the need for a lot of experimentation around pricing options,” says Ali. “There’s no cookie-cutter solution.”
Should papers lower the prices to retain readers? Says Ali, “I don’t think they can.”
In his work, he’s observed news organizations testing paywall options, exploring web hosting in smaller communities, and hosting events for which they sell tickets to generate new revenue.
He calls it a “double-edged sword,” because while newspapers are exploring other funding as a means to survive, they’re also scaling back on their local coverage.
“I think people would be willing to pay a little bit more if the coverage was robust, but it’s not,” says Ali. “A lot of [the money] is going to keeping the lights on, but I’d love to see newspapers double down on the unique aspects they can offer,” which, in his opinion, means “being local.”
For example, no one’s picking up the Progress to read the front-page Associated Press story about what’s going on in Moscow, he says. “We read The Daily Progress because we want to know what’s going on in Charlottesville.”