When Warren Buffett talks…people listen. The sage from Omaha has a new and much unexpected industry target, traditional newspapers. Buffett believes that newspapers are undervalued and has invested $315 million in the past year buying them up. Buffett’s shared his thinking on these investments recently by way of a letter to his shareholders explaining that his strategy will be to make sure that local and community papers focus on content that is not accessible anywhere else…in other words “hyper-local” content.
Buffett uses the Arkansas Democrat Gazette as an example of a paper that started charging for its online content in 2001 when other papers were giving their content away. Over the last 12 years, the AD-G has maintained a level circulation where other papers have drastically lost readership.
I like Mr. Buffett’s strategy. But, unfortunately, the local newspapers I read everyday are failing to follow this model. In order to save money, they have decimated their newsrooms, letting go the key reporters that should be responsible for delivering the local content that can’t be found anywhere else. As a result, the paper at best delivers me yesterday’s news with a smattering of local mug shots and the police blotter.
Some of the local community papers that only publish weekly are trying harder. Without the financial pressures of delivering the printed version every day, they can invest more in quality writing and expanded stories. These weekly papers in my opinion have a higher likelihood of surviving. Only time will tell. But if I were working at a daily paper, I would start looking for another job.