illustration by Douglas Smith
It seemed like a ridiculous question even just a year ago: could the Dallas Morning News, as we know it, cease to exist? When Chicago’s Tribune Company filed for bankruptcy in December, it suggested that no newspaper is safe. And with the News, the situation looks especially dire. Unlike the debt-ridden Tribune Company, the iNews’ parent, A.H. Belo, is barely meeting its cash-flow needs; filing for bankruptcy wouldn’t help. To generate cash, A.H. Belo is looking to sell its real estate holdings across the country (in a decidedly down market).

So what would Dallas look like if its paper of record went away?


“No, its skyscrapers will not fall, its roads will not collapse, its populace will not move out en masse,” writes Mark Potts on his blog Recovering Journalist. “In fact, I’ll bet whatever city loses its daily paper first—and it will only be the first of many—will continue to be a major city, pretty much unabated. Its media landscape will change, but in ways much less radical than people think.”


How might that look in Dallas?


1. The daily paper would become a 24-hour online news source. An online-only News will have to work to maintain its status as the news authority. Even if it maintained some sort of reduced hard-copy presence (next month, Detroit’s papers will no longer deliver every day, for example), it would still be managing its shift until it goes online only. This means abandoning its role as civic voice and watchdog and concentrating on breaking news (a local CNN.com). This would lead to ...


2. Other media vying to compete with them. Other newsgathering sources (the Associated Press, TV stations, community papers) would join local aggregators of news (like Pegasusnews.com) in trying to compete with the wounded Dallasnews.com beast. This would lead to ...


3. Other local editorial voices becoming more important. D Magazine, the Dallas Observer, public and talk radio, blogs—they will fill the void, tell you which stories are important, foster debate about big city issues. This would lead to ...


4. New voices being heard. The force of your argument would become more important than the media brand in which it is voiced. It would be harder to rest on laurels, easier to break into the new media world. What it would not do, unfortunately, is provide a forum for time-consuming investigative journalism. Which will lead to ...


5. Some malfeasance going unnoticed. You take away a few hundred journalists, more chicanery will occur. Such stories will slowly become the province of local well-funded nonprofit media, like ProPublica or Mark Cuban’s Sharesleuth.com.