You can’t underestimate the local advantage, writes Max Moola.
In 2012, Warren Buffet bought a newspaper.
Well, actually, he bought a lot of newspapers — 63, in total, from the Media General group, and he’s been adding to that stable ever since.
Now, if you know a little about Buffet, or about the newspaper business, this strategy might seem like a bit of a head scratcher. Buffet is, after all, the Oracle of Omaha, the most successful investor of the 20th century, one of the world’s wealthiest people, and also one of the most influential. Newspapers, on the other hand — well, the smart money is that they’re a dying breed. Circulation is down, everybody’s getting their news online, get out while you can.
And it’s not like Buffet doesn’t know this. In 2009 – three years before he bought those 63 newspapers – he declared that his holding company, Berkshire Hathaway, would no longer invest in newspapers “at any price”.
So, what changed his mind? Why would the world’s most respected investor pour money into print media? And we’re not talking about prestigious, blue ribbon titles here, either – he didn’t decide to buy The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal.
No, he stocked up on local papers you’ve almost certainly never heard of – and he explained why in his annual letter to shareholders.
“Newspapers continue to reign supreme in the delivery of local news,” Buffet wrote. “If you want to know what’s going on in your town – whether the news is about the mayor or taxes or high school football – there is no substitute for a local newspaper that is doing its job.
“A reader’s eyes may glaze over after they take in a couple of paragraphs about Canadian tariffs or political developments in Pakistan; a story about the reader himself or his neighbours will be read to the end. Wherever there is a pervasive sense of community, a paper that serves the special informational needs of that community will remain indispensable to a significant portion of its residents.”
And there it is. That’s it. Buffet wasn’t buying newspapers at all. He was buying – or rather, he was buying into – communities.
Around the time of the Media General deal, he put it in plain terms: “In Grand Island, Nebraska, everyone is interested in how the football team does. They’re interested in who got married. They’re maybe even more interested in who got divorced.”
It’s real simple. There’s an advantage in being local, and there’s a foolishness in throwing that advantage away. Local angles grab local people, and they help separate you from the endless – literally endless – array of media at the modern audience’s fingertips.
That doesn’t just apply to newspapers, either. It goes for magazines like the one you’re reading, and it sure as heck goes for radio.
If you’ve gone anywhere near our local papers recently, you’ll know that a local radio station has decided to let most of its local talent go, to be replaced by decidedly non-local voices from down south. That’s not local – it’s loco.
In this humble columnist’s solitary opinion, it’s an experiment that’s doomed to fail. Syndicating content might be cheaper, but it doesn’t take into account how parochial we are here. Brisbane is the centre of our universe, and we’ve got no time for conversations we’re not a part of. We don’t want Sydney-centric opinions shoved down our throats – we want our local media to feel like it’s being broadcast from our backyard.
Your mileage might vary. You might be looking forward to hearing the big shows from the big smoke; you might prefer national news to local news; you might be more interested in what’s happening in the corridors of power than what’s happening in your neighbourhood.
But me? I’m betting on Buffet.