I have this mental image of a guy who looks like Dick Cheney in a plush, walnut-lined meeting room, telling his people: "Gentlemen, what we have here is the demise of daily journalism."
This slow death is playing out locally. Word has leaked out from Santa Cruz County's own Ken Doctor, who runs the brilliant Newsonomics website and has reported today that the hedge fund ownership of Digital First Media -- owner of 75 daily newspapers including the Sentinel -- is contemplating selling off its newspapers as well as shuttering its experimental "Thunderdome" digital news hub.
That news comes on top of this week's purchase of the Good Times ownership by Metro newspapers,which essentially means a takeover of the Good Times by the smaller Santa Cruz Weekly.
Back to the Dick Cheney guy. What's at work here is that print journalism, along with online journalism, is morphing out of the daily news cycle and going into a 24/7 online and mobile service, punctuated perhaps by a weekly print edition -- complete with advertising support.
Daily newspapers are out in the cold. Sure, most of them do a fine job of tweeting and updating the news on their mobile sites -- but there's little revenue to be gained that way. Most revenue remains with the daily printed edition, but because of layoffs, cutbacks in salaries, training and hiring, the quality of the print product is declining. Fewer people read a daily newspaper. Not just in Santa Cruz, either. It's across the country, with the possible exception of The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.
The daily cycle makes little sense anymore, when you think about it. Even the nightly news on TV isn't attracting a crowd. News consumers want the bulletins immediately, and if they want context, they'll turn to something more in depth than a daily can provide.
What's next? Things could play out in a number of ways. The owner of the Metro group, Dan Pulcrano, is the proud owner of the best local website URL -- SantaCruz.com. With the support of the weekly print edition, there's a lot of opportunity; the challenge is going to be whether The Metro has the resources to invest in experienced and talented journalists.
The Sentinel's outlook is murky. With much of the newspaper's production now in Chico, a sale would be complicated, with another outside investment group far more likely to take over than some local person or partnership. Admittedly, though, the asking price might be cheap -- no press, no building, no infrastructure. Essentially, you'd be buying the nameplate.
Even so, I wouldn't invest in a daily news operation. The Dick Cheney guy's words are ringing in my ears.