Last month brought some most unwelcome news to the First State’s media ecosystem, when the Delaware State News announced that it plans to stop publishing a printed paper twice a week.On its face, the decision is entirely understandable, especially in a climate where inflationary costs seem to be rising ad nauseam. The costs of buying paper and ink, running presses, packaging them for delivery and then hiring staff to drop them on doorsteps in the wee hours of the morning have been increasing for some time, and the recent inflation has exacerbated them immensely.
[caption id="attachment_222223" align="alignright" width="300"] Jacob Owens Editor Delaware Business Times[/caption]
But the decision by the Dover-based newspaper also brings a difficult distinction to Delaware – another state that will no longer have a single daily printed newspaper.As someone who woke up to the sound of poly-bagged newspapers hitting my Wilmington neighborhood’s driveways every morning, it once seemed an unthinkable notion that an entire state wouldn’t have a printed newspaper delivered every day. But alas, this is where the industry is heading.An accurate accounting of production days at newspapers across the country isn’t readily available – and I enlisted media experts to try to run one down – but it appears the First State will join a small list of states including at least Wyoming, Utah and Vermont that no longer have a single paper that prints daily.The State News is the second paper to make the drastic move after The News Journal dropped its Saturday print edition earlier this year.Our papers are not alone. Between 1970 and 2018, the number of U.S. newspapers that printed daily fell more than 25%, according to a recent study of Census Bureau data by Statista. Those figures have assuredly worsened in the past four years as the pandemic sped up a transition to online news and inflation squeezed budgets.The changes have varied across the nation.The News Journal’s owner Gannett made production cuts at more than 150 outlets nationwide as it pares down its print exposure in favor of increasingly moving content online, primarily cutting Saturday out of schedules as it did in Delaware. Major newspapers like the Casper Star-Tribune in Wyoming and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette have moved from daily to twice a week printing. In Utah, both of Salt Lake City's major newspapers – the Salt Lake City Tribune and Deseret News – dropped their daily schedules to move to weekly print schedules.
[caption id="attachment_223834" align="alignleft" width="300"] Delaware newspapers have cut back on printing, to the point where there is no daily newspaper in the state. | PHOTO COURTESY OF UNSPLASHED/BANK PHROM[/caption]
The loss of a daily newspaper may seem like a foregone conclusion to many who simply say OK and go back to reading their smartphone. But the reality is that everyone doesn’t have an internet connection, or even access to one if they wanted.Delaware is among the most internet-connected states in the nation, but an estimated 11,600 homes and businesses are unserved by wired broadband, according to a state report issued last year. The Carney administration aims to use federal pandemic-related funds to close those gaps.But despite broadband’s wide availability, one in four Delaware households still choose not to have internet and another 11%only have internet via their cell phone. That means that about a quarter of the public may go uneducated about the news and affairs of the day as printed newspapers are put out to pasture.Many of those individuals live below the poverty line or are a part of a historically disadvantaged population. Many more are our seniors who have difficulty navigating technology and the internet. Not having access to printed news could put them at further disadvantage in our community.After more than decade in this industry, I don’t bring these issues up to guilt my colleagues forced into difficult business decisions – as we print twice monthly, the costs of production are a small fraction of the State News and News Journal – but only to say that additional thought may need to be given as a community as to how we educate each other. We’ve all seen how relying upon social media in the absence of trained journalism can spectacularly fail in newsgathering.One case that I’ve followed closely over the years is that of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, which began four years ago to convert its Arkansas newspaper from a paper to a digital format nearly every day of the week, supplying subscribers with an iPad and training on how to access its e-edition. The more than century-old, family-owned company spent more than $6 million to buy thousands of iPads to give to readers.In an update to the community last year, the paper’s publisher reported that they primarily heard that readers appreciated the gesture and enjoyed the experience on the iPads more than they had the printed edition. They’ve been able to maintain a $34 a month subscription price for the daily e-edition and a Sunday print edition, which is nearly in line with industry averages.Perhaps that’s the route we are headed, but for those who love the smell and feel of that newsprint – cherish it now.