Sunday, May 20, 2012

Print Media says "I am still quite alive!"

Warren Buffett

Huff Post on 5/17/2012 reported that a legendary investor Warren Buffett, also known as the “Sage of Omaha,” has agreed to purchase 63 newspapers for 142 million dollars. They were purchased from a financially troubled company called Media General Inc. of Richmond. In this merger, the 63 newspaper properties will join Buffett’s company Berkshire Hathaway in combining with its existing newspaper publishing branch, “Omaha World-Herald Corporation,” the primary daily newspaper of Nebraska.

Observing the current rise of the tablets and e-readers and availability of information out-of-paper, it seems only natural to question the motives behind his bold decision, and one might ask just exactly what drove him to make this “risky bet” of investing his wealth in the declining print media. Electronic forms of reading apparatus are replacing paper and numerous recent research studies show that number of paying readers is declining every year and will continue to do so in the future. The overall trend is evident: print journalism is dying. Could this mean that the “Sage of Omaha” made a critical mistake with his investment?
Who reads newspaper in print forms nowadays?


Rather than thinking it a mistake, Buffett shows much hope and faith in the future of newspaper industry. While admitting the big newspaper companies such as The Washington Post or The New York Times will continue to battle against each other in paper and on-line competition, he asserts that in towns and cities “there is a strong sense of community,” and “there is no more important institution than the local paper.”

Terry Mattingly, the director of the Washington Journalism Center, is one of many who shares Buffett’s opinion and sees Buffett’s investment as a profitable opportunity rather than a mistake. In what Mattingly calls “the Wal-Mart country,” he describes that the larger newspapers are receding due to competition and the smaller papers will survive because they can still carve out a niche for themselves. He views Buffett’s strategy as targeting of the “niche markets” and as a safe bet.   

Buffett’s bold investment shows that the print media is far from dead. It is true that the digital age has changed the meaning of readership from a traditional sense. Moreover, a large percentage of our population is no longer passive readers, but active participants who readily express their thoughts on various issues and even communicate with the journalists through digital social media such as Facebook or the newspaper-website platforms. However, even with this trend, this does not necessarily indicate that the print media has no hope. For one, as shown above, the traditional feel and sense of neighborhood will remain with the local papers and community news. Trends may shift, but both the print media and digital journalism will flourish by those who have faith in the newspaper industry as the independent Fourth Branch of the government. As Buffett says, the fundamentals don’t change.


  1. This is an interesting story about the potential profitability of print. You also seem to suggest that Buffett might also be doing virtuous investing that mixes wealth management with philanthropy by talking about newspapers as civic institutions.

  2. I really hope that there is a revival in the interest in print media because it seems that the way our culture is digitizing everything, people are losing interest in print. It is interesting to see that niche markets are expanding, which is sort of like going backwards in history to solve the problem. Niche Markets can cater to people of different interests, which I feel, would allow a broader range of people to feel included. The problem with larger print media organizations is that it marginalizes a lot of people and news. So niche markets can function like local newspapers and cover a wider variety in news content and reach out to a greater audience in this respect.

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