The oldest local weekly newspaper in America just closed

Originally published at: The oldest local weekly newspaper in America just closed | Boing Boing


I live in Cambridge and I didn’t know the Chronicle was even still going up to now. I’m trying to remember the last time I saw it around.


Where are those well meaning billionaires when you need them to do something meaningful?


It took 175 years to close the oldest local weekly newspaper in America? That’s some stiff paper; how long did it take to open it?


I do have to say that a lot of the local papers have really cut back: combining Saturday and Sunday papers into a ‘Weekend’ edition, reducing sections or eliminating them completely, doing more ‘canned’ news from feeds like AP, etc. Then there’s the problem of access; I canned our delivery subscription for one of the local papers when the delivery person coudn’t be arsed to put the paper in the library’s book drop, resulting in lots of papers going missing.


family-owned until the early 90s before spending three decades getting shuffled between different kinds of corporate ownership.

Was private equity one of those kinds? Vulture capitalists do have a special love for busting out newspapers.


Yeah, it’s been going on for a while, too - starting in earnest with all the newspaper consolidation in the '90s. The local paper got bought up by a media company that also bought the papers in the larger area, and went from an award-winning serious newspaper that did real journalism to one that almost entirely consists of AP wire content and New York Times article reprints, with a tiny handful of local news stories. Since I already have a NYT subscription, it’s mostly pointless, but I’ve kept it purely for the local news, though that’s so scant I frequently question the choice. Inevitably, I only decide to keep it because the subscription is so cheap now. The delivery guy has never delivered the actual paper, but I can’t even be bothered to complain, I just read it online. It feels like it’s all in a continuous downwards spiral, which is pretty depressing for the paper in a city of over a million people.


In my humble opinion, this is the problem. Newspapers should have figured out at some point in the mid 2000s or early 2010s that they were no longer in the Newpaper business, but in the online content creation business.

And thus, they died. Some of them are still shambling, but they are dead men walking.

Most cut back and almost eliminated local journalism, which is ironically the only thing of value that they actually had. I can get the AP wire national news just as easily as they can. That holds no value. But local news, local opinion, local restaurant reviews and local business news? That I can’t get anywhere near as easily. That’s where the value was. And they killed it in cost savings methods.

And the other problem is- they needed to understand that their real bread and butter has always been advertising. The price of the physical subscription has always been roughly break even for delivering the newspaper to my house. The profit came from selling eyes to advertisers. They had relationships with local businesses for selling ads. By trying to paywall the local content to drive subscriptions they got rid of the eyes that they needed to sell to advertisers. They didn’t try to sell ads to the local businesses that they always sold to, they sold ad space cheap to Google Ads. Frankly, hyperlocal ads for the restaurant down the street, the local grocery store, the indie Jewler on third street would have probably paid better and been more useful for their readers.

By paywalling their news content and preventing nonsubscribers from viewing it, they eliminated most of their traffic and readership to protect an aspect of the business that was never that profitable to begin with. If anything, going to a weekly free physical edition to anyone local who signs up for it and using it as a wrapper to distribute physical store fliers and advertisement copy with most of the real news being online seems like it was a better, more sustainable move. (And for a while, we had a local newspaper that did that, without the online part. I haven’t seen that for quite a while now; and we get our ads in the mail now.)

Honestly, I suspect it would be really, really hard for the model to create a journalistic enterprise from scratch. I think it would have been enough to sustain the news and advertising departments of a local newspaper. I know there are several local news websites near me that seem to be succeeding, although they are not exactly bastions of local reporting (but they are getting better). Of course, this is in a city of 1.5MM.

The local news TV shows seem to be filling the gap as best as they can with their online presence.


And the other problem is- they needed to understand that their real bread and butter has always been advertising. The price of the physical subscription has always been roughly break even for delivering the newspaper to my house. The profit came from selling eyes to advertisers.

Exactly. People like to point out that you aren’t the customer but the product to tech companies like Facebook and Google, and that advertisers were the real customers, but newspapers had pioneered that model way before.


It’s quite sad, really, watching these local papers slowly die like that. Our local paper used to be pretty decent, but it’s gotten smaller and smaller over the years. Now the editor (who writes the whole thing, takes most of the pictures, etc.) is spending more of his time working on stuff for the sister publications than he is working on his paper. What’s especially hard is that he’d been doing this job for 25+ years and it’s just getting worse every year.

This!!! I went to journalism school starting in 2000. Newspapers (and the school itself) had absolutely no idea what to do about the internet. We had halfhearted online reporting classes, but I seemed to know more than the faculty did at that point. Most people just seemed sad that the “good old days” seem to be no more.

The fact that they still don’t seem to have have fully accepted the online market isn’t surprising based on how they handled it early on.

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To be fair, they eventually figured it out, in the sense that they realized the online content creation business is fucked, too. Papers that dropped subs didn’t necessarily do better. The local ads that newspapers relied on included, mostly, classified ads. (For the local paper, that was a huge revenue source.) Which went away almost completely thanks to Craigslist. That was a huge blow. But online advertising kind of eroded the value of ads in general. Being online - and ad supported - means they’re also getting a lot less for their ads being seen by a lot more people, ironically.
I’m not sure if there’s a path back for newspapers, how much of their previous features they can use to claw back readers. I suspect that online reviews make e.g. restaurant reviews less valuable to readers, for example. Even though the online ad system is totally, provably worthless, businesses still seem to be pretending it isn’t, which makes a shift to (actually valuable) local ads difficult.

Essentially what my local paper did. One can still get a daily paper subscription, or a digital-only subscription, but the cheapest sub (which costs almost nothing) is online + a Sunday newspaper - which is a thick bundle of ads with a thin wrapping of news. (I read this newspaper as a child, and it’s sad to see how diminished it is these days.) It seems like the Sunday paper is not just basically free, but is actually subsidizing the online content. I can’t tell if this strategy has allowed them to hang on, or things are still getting worse. Seems like they’re getting worse.

The problem is, for Google and Facebook, the “content” is free, so the fact that they’re getting a tiny amount of money from ads doesn’t matter. They don’t have to worry about the fact that the ad revenue is not enough to support the creation of content.


Huh? Reporting is reporting. Find, research and then write the story. The issue was all the bad platform decisions that @Avery_Thorn described - mainly not delivering a local online platform for local news and local ads, where the stories could find an audience.

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Yeah. I know. I’ve been in and out of the journalism world for 20 some-odd years. That class, in particular, was a huge waste of time. But it speaks to the fact that the journalism industry at the time had no idea how to handle the internet. Rather than embrace the internet as content delivery mechanism and make good decisions around it, they kind of floundered and spent an entire semester teaching a bunch of teenagers how to use the internet.


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