The Vanishing of the Midsize Newspaper: Can Anything Turn the Tide?

Ever since the Great Recession of 2008, the newspaper industry has been in a constant start of flux. People are more careful with their disposable income, and newspapers are finding it difficult to get people to pay for information that is already available online for free. The other problem is that the Internet offers so many information options that newspapers are finding it increasingly difficult to be the news option of choice for large groups of consumers.

Over the past few years, billionaire business professionals have shown a considerable interest in the newspaper industry.’s Jeff Bezos and Warren Buffett have shelled out hundreds of millions of dollars to buy the largest newspapers in the country. Thanks to an influx of new cash, these newspapers are finding it easier to develop ways to build revenue and maintain their subscriber base.

Small town newspapers (those newspapers with circulations of 5,000 or less) also seem to be surviving, mostly because they are the only source of news for people in their areas. But what about the newspapers that have circulations ranging from 100,000 to 250,000? The recent digital transition has exposed the huge and unsustainable overhead costs for running these types of newspapers, and many newspaper industry observers are wondering if these midsize newspapers could be on their way out.

RELATED: Why Local Publishers Top National Newspapers for Advertisers

Employment Is Down

According to the Bloomberg View, employment at midsize newspapers fell 22 percent in 2014. While the other size newspapers were able to sustain or even grow employment, the midsize papers found themselves shedding personnel to cut costs. The inevitable result of cutting back on editorial staff is that a newspaper is no longer able to offer the same quality coverage it had become known for. Midsize newspapers have put themselves in a situation where they now need to figure out how to compete for readers, without being able to offer content that sets them apart.

Paywalls Are A Temporary Fix

The Pew Research Center mentions in its 2013 State of the Media summary that paywalls and physical subscriptions are on the rise for midsize newspapers around the country. The evidence suggests that readers are willing to pay for premium content that they cannot get anywhere else, and the lure of having a physical newspaper in a reader’s hands is still very strong.

But any rise in revenue through premium paywalls and subscriptions is slowly being offset by advertising revenues lost to mobile devices. While desktop websites are very easy to monetize with advertisements, smartphones and tablets are proving to be difficult sources of advertising income. As midsize papers improve their premium offerings and see a rise in subscription revenue, they are becoming frustrated by the continued decline in overall revenue thanks to mobile computing issues.

A Glimmer Of Hope From Another Industry

The Pew Research Center released a report in 2012 that had some interesting information that could be a glimmer of hope for midsize newspapers. For the most part, midsize newspapers are the local papers for large metropolitan areas. Over the years, these newspapers have had to go from being dailies to being weeklies, and they have been pondering the fate of their publications for a very long time. The Pew Research Center summarized that Americans are starting to turn away from the 24-hour news networks and large-scale national news reports on the big networks, and are turning back to the local news programs.

In general, the interest in local programming among television consumers has been on the rise. So what does this have to do with midsize newspapers? For a long time now, different types of newspapers have attempted to team up with cable and satellite television providers to offer premium newspaper content for a small monthly fee. The programs have worked at various levels, but they have also faded away. Could the interest in local television programming be something that midsize newspapers use to make their comeback?

A Billionaire With An Idea

Mark Cuban is an eccentric billionaire whose primary interests lie in the worlds of technology and sports. But he recently wrote an editorial on his blog website that mentioned this very idea of television stations and newspapers teaming up together. Cuban’s idea centered around national newspapers teaming up with large-scale cable television providers to offer access to premium online newspaper content for a small fee. But the idea could just as easily translate to midsize newspapers teaming up with local television programming providers to bring in more readers.

Offering Value

Television and newspaper media outlets have traditionally been at odds over the years, and local television stations do not necessarily need help bringing in more revenue. But the local news outlets for the larger metropolitan areas could seize on this rise in interest in local news by teaming up with midsize newspapers to offer a comprehensive package of local news coverage. It could be that television is what winds up saving midsize newspapers, if anything at all can actually save them.

Midsize newspaper
Midsize newspapers will need to make smart partnerships to try and expand their subscription base.

Time Is Running Out

As we mentioned earlier, midsize newspapers lost nearly a quarter of their staff in one year due to the need to cut back on spending. The simple fact is that, without the flow of reliable advertising revenue from physical newspapers, midsize papers are finding it hard to compete. Blogs are starting to offer coverage of local news items for free, and the national stories are already covered by countless outlets. It may be that there simply is no more room in the newspaper world for the midsize newspapers.

Can the midsize newspaper in the United States be saved? While the national and local newspapers have found their niche, the midsize papers are looking like the odd man out. If midsize newspapers are going to survive, they will need to start innovating technology and making industry partnerships akin to what the national and local papers have done. But with plenty of competition from free outlets that provide the same information, midsize newspapers have their work cut out for them.

Will midsize newspapers be able to develop innovate ideas to find their place in today’s digital era?

George N Root III is a professional freelance writer who has expertise in topics such as Internet marketing, business, advertising, and personal finance.

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