At what point do you get rid of a local newspaper?

Within the past week, The Iowa City Press-Citizen has lost one reporter to, a sports reporter to The Des Moines Register (owned by Gannett, which also owns the PC), and this week let go of its city editor and its executive editor. I also hear there may be more people leaving. That said, the PC is bringing in two reporters, but they will be getting marching orders for coverage from Des Moines.

There is talk about when the PC will fold into the an Iowa City bureau of the Register. Already, the two papers share tons of content. Many times, it seems we are reading the same paper twice when stories appear same-day in both places.

When will the Press-Citizen stop publishing altogether?

At what point do you get rid of a local newspaper?

Maybe it should be now.

Iowa City is covered by The Daily Iowan, The Gazette out of Cedar Rapids, and (via the PC), The Des Moines Register, and a local site. Does the city really need that much coverage? Missing in this list is also the local Corridor Business Journal and the alternative magazine, Little Village.

So would it be the worst-case scenario to fold the PC altogether?

What about, instead, making it a two-page insert into the Register?

That way, we can get state news and local news all in one place, for one price.

Would this change really be that awful? Or could it be exciting?

Wouldn’t a few pages stuffed in the Register produced by local reporters fill the daily morning needs of readers?

Then reporters could focus on making the PC website something dynamic and worry less about filling an entire paper.

Doesn’t sound so bad.

Several years ago, I remember talking with a Capital Times reporter in Madison, Wisconsin about how they should just shutter the afternoon paper (the city also had a morning paper at which I worked) to go online-only. The reporter’s face went flush.

But in 2008, they did go online-only. And, their coverage improved.

The paper began focusing its news selection. It’s writing even improved. The change gave the paper a targeted market and a niche without losing its progressive take on issues and its worth.

In this case, the PC could focus on putting out two or three stories a day for the print version and produce multimedia that keeps us coming back throughout the day.

Such a move, if it ever happens, shouldn’t been seen as a newspaper abandoning its community. It should be seen as a way to embrace where we are today in media and what we can offer in new ways.

I had lunch with a journalism friend of mine today and told him my idea. He asked, “What about people who don’t have Internet?” Wouldn’t removing the daily PC from the stands and doorsteps hurt those people?

My first answer is “No.” They can buy the Register.

But, he continued, what about all of the content that would just go online and not in the print version? Wouldn’t they be missing all of the news?

Well that’s when my answer becomes more complicated.

If you look at local media, such as the PC, as providing avenues towards democracy and the public sphere via the public’s involvement in media and the watchdog nature of local press, I say we already do not have that service provided by most local media.

As I have written on here before, the press continue to turn to the same sources, continue to be in bed with other institutions, such as police, courts, business. They certainly are not in with the people.

In Iowa City, for example, local media are fascinated by university news and police. Little media content has to do with hard-hitting coverage of city government, and most days the papers lack adequate coverage of neighborhoods and surrounding communities.

Furthermore, online comments to news stories on local media websites tend to be run by racist trolls who find ways in almost all news stories to “blame the victim” and one’s “black” or “urban culture” for local crime and decline. That doesn’t seem helpful to building community, and these ideas don’t really seem to do much to further — or to represent — democracy.

So would those without the Internet really be missing much?

Wondering when to kill a paper (at least our traditional notion of what a newspaper is) seems to be a harsh reality. Certainly, I never would have endorsed such an idea even a few years ago.

But, corporations continue to kill their local news outlets by making choices that either send their employees fleeing to competitors or make cuts that seal the paper’s fate of being ad-driven, not community news-driven. When that happens, isn’t the paper dead already?