The next generation of cell service -- soon to be widely available -- will be four to 10 times faster than current service. More than 20 percent of Americans own tablets or e-readers, and 40 percent own smart phones. Experimental technology – HTML5 and new internet protocols -- will soon enhance digital delivery in all corners of the world. Internet advertising is growing, print ads are declining.
“Never before,” says Arnold Glasow, “has the future so rapidly become the past.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. Postal Service is verging on bankruptcy – much to the consternation of many community newspapers, especially those who depend on Saturday delivery for their weekend editions.
The Postal Service has proposed ending Saturday delivery, closing up to 3,700 post offices, reducing pre-payments to its retiree health care fund, reducing staff by some 35,000 employees and shuttering some 300 regional processing facilities. The Obama Administration has endorsed parts of the cost-cutting plan, including ending Saturday delivery.
“A community newspaper's local mail is its bread and butter,” my friend, Tonda Rush, CEO of the National Newspaper Association, said in recent testimony before Congress. “To remain viable, the newspaper must be able to enter its mail at a local post office … We are concerned that rural America is being thrown overboard by a postal system too eager to lavish its assets onto highly competitive urban areas. Within this context, the loss of Saturday residential delivery would be a major blow.”
Rush conceded that newspapers will no longer rely on the USPS for out-of-area delivery of newspapers, saying: “For longer distance mail, the industry is working rapidly toward electronic delivery options, as the ability of the Postal Service to deliver a newspaper to zones outside a core area has long deteriorated, and with these new changes may be non-existent. We need the cooperation of USPS to have these electronic copies recognized as circulation, as USPS provides our primary circulation reporting system.”
My friends in the community newspaper industry see the Post Office reductions as being especially harmful to rural America, whose demographics are generally older and poorer than urban America, where smart phones, tablets and cell service are better and more prevalent. A mailed, printed newspaper is the lifeblood of democracy in rural America, some say.
I wonder if community newspaper publishers shouldn’t look more to the future rather than trying to protect anachronistic services such as the Post Office. As community leaders, they might want to spend more efforts bringing broadband services to their communities and residents.
“Unfortunately, too many rural Americans find themselves on the wrong side of a digital divide,” FCC chairman Julius Genachowski said last year. “Only 50 percent of rural Americans have broadband in the home, compared to the 65 percent percent adoption rate for all Americans. The broadband adoption rate in rural America is beyond unacceptable. In Indian Country today, our best estimates put the adoption rate in the range of 10 percent. Rather than closing the opportunity gap in America, high-speed Internet has the potential to exacerbate it if we don’t make broadband available to all Americans.”
The NNA – notably Tonda Rush and postal guru Max Heath – have done heroic duty in the past in helping community newspapers get better rates and service from the Postal Service. But that well is running dry. There’s no turning back the impact of technology, and I doubt Congress – faced with huge deficits -- is going to subsidize the Postal Service to any great extent.
Instead of lobbying to support a dying institution, community newspapers could point their considerable clout to helping in Washington and at state legislatures to more quickly close the digital divide that separates rural from urban America.
Let’s lead our communities into the future.