Lindsay Mackie is a consultant at nef. She is leading nef’s post office campaign and works on Clone Town and Ghost Town Britain.
The headlines are enough to make us punch drunk: Lehman Brothers goes under, the Government owns a whack of our banking system, the US lost 1.25 million jobs in the last quarter, we’re heading for a no interest economy and so on.
But there is a piece of news today that is up there with those breath-catching facts. It’s in the Financial Times:
Fears for the future of some of the largest US metropolitan newspapers are escalating after reports that Tribune, the owner of the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times, has begun preparations for a possible bankruptcy filing.The group, which has been in negotiations with banks in the hope of renegotiating its $12bn debt burden, did not return calls, but told its Chicago flagship: “It’s an uncertain and difficult environment. We haven’t made any decision. We’re looking at all of our options.
The Tribune Group was bought for $8.2 bn last year by a Chicago millionaire called Sam Zell. According to the FT, he quickly ran into trouble because of falling newspaper revenues and the tightening credit market. He has a huge debt to service and newspapers aren’t the best way to do that, on account of they are, by and large, losing readers, advertising and options very fast.
The idea that the US, which (a) doesn’t have any great national newspaper covering the whole continent (b) doesn’t have a diverse and deep rooted newspaper industry and (c) has a market dominated TV industry which doesn’t regard foreign affairs as profitable, might be in danger of losing the LA Times and Chicago Tribune is too horrible to contemplate.
But contemplate it we must, not least because the same pressures on the US media are being exerted in the UK. What’s happening to our local papers is worringly unremarked upon by readers and politicans. In Britain the regional press is pretty much on the verge of extinction for precisely the same reasons as the LA Times is facing a bleak future. Many regional papers are owned by big conglomerates; these are massively over indepted; their debts are serviced by more and more editorial cuts; readers depart because papers get thinner and thinner; advertising drops because there are fewer readers and- now- because we’re heading for a raging recession.
The national flow of news is vital but on this blog I just want to concentrate for a moment on the horror of a local life without a decent paper. A good local paper should be one where you can find the second hand pram, see a pic of your grandparents celebrating their golden wedding, find out why Bank St has been shut by road works for a millenium, read about councillors’ expenses and find out who’s campaigning on what. You should be able to get good information about the council’s programmes, police activity, local schools and local characters.
Its about knowing where you live, how it works and who can help you if things go wrong. It is about shining a light on malpractice. It is about the way we live now and so far there isn’t an alternative. The web will provide one, in time, but the model doesn’t exist yet. Buy your local paper while you can, and write to it often. And send us any ideas you have on the ways in which the free flow of information can be kept up if our local papers disappear.