Thursday, May 24, 2012

The news about the news

The consensus is that newspapers are yesterday's news, on their way to oblivion in the digital age. So why do rich guys keep buying them?

Back in the day, Conrad Black and his gunslinger David Radler went around snapping up newspapers all over North America. Gazillionaire Rupert Murdoch owns about 170 newspapers ranging from the Papua New Guinea Post-Courier to the Wall Street Journal.

Now I am reading that Warren Buffett, the sage of Omaha, everybody's pick for smartest investor in the last hundred years, is spending $142 million to buy 63 newspapers, adding to a holding that already includes the Buffalo News, the Omaha World-Herald, and a big chunk of the Washington Post.

According to the Toronto Star, Buffett says he thinks newspapers have a future "if they continue delivering information that can't be found elsewhere."

"In towns and cities where there is a strong sense of community, there is no more important institution than the local paper," he says.

I wouldn't bet against him, but what is he seeing that all the pundits are missing? Nobody under 40 is subscribing to a newspaper, and most of my retiree friends are getting their news free through online editions.

I think he has seen the light at the end of the tunnel, and that light is shining on a "paywall," industry jargon for "the free ride is over, pal."

Yep, newspapers everywhere will soon expect you to pay for the online version just like you always did for the paper that arrived via your front porch. The Toronto Star recently announced that this is coming for their web version.

The internet mantra for 20 years has been "Information wants to be free." Now it is becoming "Publishers want to be paid."

If that's what it takes to ensure that good journalism survives, so be it. Sign me up.

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