New technology is mucking up the media, and newspapers seem to be taking the brunt of it. Craigslist and eBay took away classified ad sales, direct advertisers are allocating budgets to search engines and circulation is receding faster than Bruce Willis's hairline. Investors seem to prefer the safety of television broadcasters and cable companies, with their nice, government-mandated franchises and pipes that reach directly into homes.
Media, after all, is about owning a pipe -- some conduit between the creation of news or entertainment and the eyeballs that consume it. Media companies sell the owners of those eyeballs lots of things we weren't even sure we needed. The higher the ad rates, the better the business. The pipe reaches the consumer directly, keeping competition at bay. The tighter the pipe, the less the competition.
For broadcasters, the pipe is spectrum given or bought from the Federal Communications Commission under the guise that spectrum is scarce. For cable operators, it is often the sole cable franchise in a town. For phone companies, it's those regulated copper wires, some of which are so old they have Alexander Graham Bell's teeth marks in the insulation.
And newspapers? Where's the pipe? What conduit to readers do they control? Well, there is the guy that drives up and somehow misses your driveway every morning. Or the sidewalk newspaper dispenser where the homeless man buys one copy and steals the rest so he can peddle them on street corners. So unless you are the only paper in town (ask Warren Buffett how much he makes on monopoly papers like the Buffalo News), there is not much of a pipe to control. Instead, reputation, quality news gathering, trust and credibility maintain the franchise, something The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times enjoy on a national level and the Washington Post and others have locally.