I have long considered the daily newspaper to be one of the hallmarks of civilized society. I say this despite my innumerable disagreements and complaints about slanted stories, editorials masquerading as “news reports,” and biased or dishonest reporting (or deliberate non-reporting, which is even worse). But biased or not, daily newspapers provide at least a common cultural denominator which tend to tie an area together, the way a college student newspaper might.
So I am very sorry to see that the owner of the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Daily News has filed for bankruptcy protection:

Philadelphia Newspapers L.L.C., which owns The Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News, and Philly.com, filed for bankruptcy protection yesterday in a bid to restructure its $390 million in debt load.
The company, bought by a group of Philadelphia-area investors for $562 million in 2006, said the voluntary Chapter 11 filing would not interrupt its daily operations.
“This restructuring is focused solely on our debt, not our operations,” chief executive officer Brian P. Tierney, who led the group that provided about $150 million of the purchase price three years ago, said in a news release.
“Our operations are sound and profitable,” said Tierney, referring to operating profits before interest and certain other costs.
The financial burden from an advertising downturn, rising costs for newsprint, and the migration of readers to the Internet caused Philadelphia Newspapers to fall out of compliance with its loan agreements last year. The same conditions have devastated the broadcast industry.

There you go.
migration of readers to the Internet
Well, all I can say is don’t blame me. I not only used to read the Inquirer avidly, but I subscribed for many years, and as longtime readers know, I was a tireless linker of Inquirer articles. Assuming that a certain percentage of readers click on the links, that means I did more than my part to increased the Inquirer’s online visibility — especially to out-of-the-area readers who might have otherwise never read it.
Of course, the Inquirer is not alone:

The Philadelphia Newspapers filing follows last month’s bankruptcy filing by the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The Journal Register Co., based in Yardley and the publisher of a number of local daily and weekly newspapers, filed for bankruptcy Saturday. Just last week, the publicly traded New York Times Co. suspended its dividend to cope with the economic downturn.

As to how much of this results from free news on the Internet, I don’t know. How many non-subscribers are there who read the Inquirer online in order to save money? I’ve speculated before that growing illiteracy might be playing a larger role than is commonly acknowledged, and over the decades I’ve seen the Inquirer’s style and content degenerate in countless ways.
When I discussed this issue several years ago, I linked a Heartland Institute piece titled “Declining Literacy a Threat to Newspapers” which analogized the illiteracy threat to asteroids (and newspapers to the clueless dinosaurs who were done in):

U.S. newspapers have a life-or-death interest in schoolchildren being taught how to read and becoming motivated to read regularly.
The trends are not encouraging–for literacy or for newspapers. National Assessment of Educational Progress reading scores for fourth-graders have not budged off dreadful over the past decade. Poor and minority children have fallen even further behind, despite a federal expenditure of $125 billion over 25 years that was supposed to narrow the gap.
Perhaps even more chilling was an analysis done by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
Among 18 industrialized nations, OECD found, the United States ranked dead last in the literacy of 16- to 25-year-old high school graduates who did not go on to further study. Six in 10 of the high school graduates read below a level considered minimally necessary to cope with “the complex demands of modern life.”
It hasn’t always been that way. An OECD analyst noted that 30 years ago, the United States was the “undisputed leader” in educating its people. Now, it’s the literacy laggard among developed nations.
Recent data on newspaper readership add further cause for concern.

I’ll say. The piece was written in 2002, but it’s essential conclusions are more timely now than ever.

Newspaper editorialists have been known to scoff at parents who demand schools return to such “pre-modern” basics as the use of phonics in beginning reading. Those columnists might want to reconsider whether they themselves are the real dinosaurs. After all, whose existence is imperiled by the asteroid named illiteracy?

Read it all.
Os special concern to me was Arnold Kling’s analysis of spending on newspapers by age group:

The highest spending relative to the general population came from 65- to 74-year-olds, who spent 136 percent of the national average on newspaper subscriptions or single-copy purchases. The lowest spending on newspapers came from the 18- to 24-year-olds, who spent just 25 percent of the national average.

This was old news years ago, but I think my reaction at the time bears repeating:

This is grim news. And it certainly can’t be blamed on bloggers.
As I’ve said before, I’m somewhat guilty of being a parasite of the newspapers, but I’m still glad they’re there. The loss of them would represent a loss — not a transformation — of culture. (Dare I speak of “death”?)
This isn’t a left wing/right wing issue, nor is it a newspapers-versus-the-blogosphere issue. I think it’s a national shame.
I wish there was something I could do to help.

I still wish there was something I could do, and while it’s not much, there is something.
Poor Detroit has an embattled but old newspaper (the Detroit Free Press, which goes back to 1831), and I’ve been a loyal subscriber since I moved to Ann Arbor.
Returning from California, I found this notice from the Free Press that made me laugh derisively:

  • Effective March 30, 2009, your current seven-day subscription will change to provide three days of home delivery on Thursday, Friday, and Sunday of the print edition and daily access to the Detroit Free Press electronic edition. This means that, using the internet, you will be able to read an exact copy of the daily newspaper online, wherever you are, by 5:30 a.m.
  • The cost of your subscription will remain the same, $8.69 a month if you renew your service for the remainder of 2009. As of January 1, 2010 your new subscription rate will be $12.00 per month….
  • Talk about paying more and getting less!
    My initial reaction was “There goes my daily paper!” Because, it really isn’t a daily paper if it isn’t delivered daily.
    I thought I should just cancel the silly thing. But now that I’ve thought it over, I’ve decided I won’t, because the dinosaurs need help.