Wednesday, July 18, 2007

A sad death of media competition

I hope my local readers will forgive my personal lament of the demise of The Cincinnati Post, as a great institution of journalism that made its competitor a better paper and vice-versa. I lived in Cincinnati for two years, and during that time I threw myself into the community and its institutions and newspapers as best I could. It was a two-newspaper town: The traditionally Republican Cincinnati Enquirer and the staunchly Democratic Post.

During my time in Cincinnati I was a sworn and staunch Enquirer man. I had the paper delivered to my door every morning and would read it on the way to work by bus. I despised the Post mostly for its terrible editorial page and its support for everything that was bad about the city. It continually supported a raw at-large Council system that under-represented people and (of course) favored Democrats. The editors eschewed splitting respresentation into Wards and Precincts because they said Councillors needed a citywide focus. What they really meant, of course, was that such representation would favor the Republicans in a traditionally Republican city (one of the few with a history of a Republican "machine" that functioned similar to the way Democratic machines functioned in Boston, Memphis, New York or Chicago), and of course that could not be tolerated.

The Post kept the Enquirer honest, however, and the quality of journalism in both papers was vastly superior to anything we have here in East Tennessee in the print media. I believe this is because the papers competed against one another for over 120 years and if they were going to stay in business, they had to produce a top quality product.

To stay in business, the papers made an agreement 30 years ago that The Enquirer would handle the printing for both papers, as well as advertizing and subscriptions, but both news departments would compete against one another. It worked well in the 70's and 80's, but in the 90's it began to unravel with-you guessed it-cable and the internet. On December 31, The Cincinnati Enquirer will end the agreement with Scripps that had it printing both newspapers, and The Cincinnati Post will publish its last edition.

It is bad news for competative journalism.

Says Post editor Mike Phillipps:

"In that world, three major networks fought one another to bring their version of what was most important into our homes. We watched because there wasn't much choice.

If you wanted to buy a car, rent an apartment, find a job, move into a new home there was one place to go ... the classified section of your daily newspaper.

Today, cable TV firms advertise more than 300 channels. Satellite TV providers tout more than 250. Satellite radio? 130.

A generation has grown up not just with wireless telephones ... but with wireless phones which deliver a breathtaking selection of news, entertainment, information and, yes, advertising.

Choice is everywhere. Media, instead of drawing us together, split us into smaller and smaller slices, indulging our individual interests, instead of our collective interests."

I agree with Phillipps that the New Media is challenging the newspaper model and is breeding a whole new generation of community activist (bloggers on the Right and Left here in Tennessee are a classic example). Competition from the New Media is part of the reason for the Post's demise, but the larger reason is that its news and editorial competitor The Cincinnati Enquirer decided it was time to be the only game in town and end the old agreement. As a monopoly, The Enquirer will make tons of money, but I don't have to go out on a limb to predict that the quality of its news and editorial content will likely sink through the floor in very short order-it will no longer have the newsroom at the Post to compete with.

It is in these instances of the lack of competition in local news that the internet has filled a void, and that is why, for example, so many East Tennesseans are turning to the 'net as a news source. The Knoxville News-Sentinel is the only game in town. The Knoxville Journal, the oldest newspaper in in Knoxville (it was once called The Knoxville Whig), is now reduced to a weekly paper with more advertizements and little to no hard news. Knoxville badly needs a second competative daily newspaper. If The Cincinnati Post is any example, that won't be happening anytime soon.

(Hat Tip: Michael Silence)



At Thursday, July 19, 2007 5:42:00 AM, Anonymous Jack Lail said...


Great post. You have a great passion for the institution of newspapers and newspapering.

I too hate to see the Post's passing or any daily newspaper go or people lose their jobs.

I don't think it's the last newspaper closing you'll see in the near term (two to three years). And there's plenty of speculation we'll see a major print paper go online only.

The world has changed. Neither The Cincinnati Enquirier nor The Knoxville News Sentinel are the only game in town in their respective cities. Far from it.

I can assure you market forces and competition are at work and certainly rivals the heyday of the battles of daily newspapers in two-newspaper towns. The competitor just isn't the "other paper" today.

That there were two newspaper towns in Cincinnati and in Knoxville and in Birmingham and elsewhere for as long as they were was only thanks to an anti-trust exemption called the Newspaper Preservation Act that stymied the free market and competition from working for 20 to 30 years -- and still does in some cities.

That, in your view, served a laudable public purpose. And in the days of limited informaton choices, I suppose, it did. But even that advantage couldn't withstand economic forces forever.

I think society benefits from a diversity of information sources and viewpoints and that the competition to be heard among those sources will make them better. We have that today like no other time in history.

You as a reader and consumer determine the winners and losers. There are a lot of people at the newspaper I work at (The News Sentinel) who are putting the sweat, sacrifice and passion into being among the winners.

Would I like to go back to a time of a morning and an afternoon newspaper and three TV stations? Sounds nice, but no, I wouldn't.


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