Governing Magazine goes in-depth today on the decline of the big-city newspaper. From The Washington Post to The San Diego Union-Tribune, papers are offering early retirements and buyouts to long-time employees. News pages are shrinking. Circulation is dropping. Governing says we’re in “depressing and difficult times for newspapers.”

If that’s the case, does that mean is the newspaper industry’s Prozac? Governing takes a look in a story posted today. Reporter Rob Gurwitt writes:

You can make an argument that the decline of local news began long ago, in the wave of consolidations and buyouts that turned many cities into one-newspaper towns. “In a competitive market, you’ve got two newspapers with a big interest in keeping people intrigued by local events,” says Jim Schutze, a columnist for the Dallas Observer, an alternative weekly. “It takes a lot of ingenuity to make city hall interesting, and that only happened in a competitive market, where the goal was always to have people talking about the paper in checkout lanes and around swimming pools. When they go monopoly, they get pompous and boring.”

That seems to have been the problem in San Diego, where the Union-Tribune, the city’s only major daily, essentially slumbered while one of the biggest municipal scandals in recent memory unfolded. … The newspaper, which over the years had cut its city hall coverage to the bone, barely stirred itself. …

Things are changing in San Diego, in part because the newspaper was embarrassed and has beefed up its investigative reporting, but mostly because a longtime Union-Tribune columnist who’d been fired from his job joined with a local philanthropist and a couple of reporters from the business weekly in town to set up, a nonprofit online newspaper.

The voice now has six reporters and editors and routinely beats every other news outlet in the region to meaty stories. “As one of our sources says, it’s always been a big happy beach party here,” says Andrew Donohue, one of the site’s two co-editors. “There hasn’t been tough reporting or critical thinking in the press here for a long time. When someone kicks the ball, the rest of the media run to it, so we’ve been the ones trying to kick the ball.”

Governing has also posted a question-and-answer with Donohue and Paul Bass, editor of the nonprofit New Haven (Conn.) Independent.

Check that out here.


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