The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Gannett will soon be adding USA Today to it's local papers.
With this change, the Republic and USA Today are essentially a hybrid. As print revenue continues to slide the USA Today side will grow and the Republic side will shrink. Eventually, your morning Republic will consist of a copy of USA Today with enhanced local coverage.
This is a change I have expected for a long time. The wire services have always existed as an attempt by local papers to share costs in national and international news gathering, but I would have expected this next step of national consolidation some time ago. The internet allows not just the text, but the entire layout of newspapers to be transmitted instantly across the country.
The whole situation reminds me of television broadcasting, where local affiliates exist mainly as a byproduct of past technological limitations in signal transmission. Satellite and cable have eliminated these restrictions, but still local affiliates exist, in part because there is some demand for local content but in part because of the fact that the government protects their existence (by law, cable and satellite operators must give you the local affiliate, they cannot give you the national feed).
This is what I wrote back in 2009
I actually think the problem with newspapers like the Washington Post is the "Washington" part. Local business models dominated for decades in fields where technology made national distribution difficult or where technology did not allow for anything but a very local economy of scale. Newspapers, delivery of television programming, auto sales, beverage bottling and distribution, book selling, etc. were all mainly local businesses. But you can see with this list that technology is changing everything. TV can now be delivered via sattelite and does not require local re-distribution via line of sight broadcast towers or cable systems. Amazon dominated book selling via the Internet. Many of these businesses (e.g. liquor, auto dealers, TV broadcasting) would have de-localized faster if it had not been for politicians in the pocket of a few powerful companies passing laws to lock in outdated business or technological models.
Newspapers are ripe for a restructuring. How can one support a great Science page or Book Review section or International Bureau on local circulation? How much effort do the NY Times, Washington Post, LA Times, SF Chronicle, etc. duplicate every day? People tell me, "that's what the wire services are for." Bah. The AP is 160 years old! It is a pre-Civil War solution to this problem. Can it really be that technology and changing markets have not facilitated a better solution?
The future is almost certainly a number of national papers (ala the WSJ and USA Today) printed locally with perhaps local offices to provide some local customization or special local section. Paradoxically, such a massive consolidation from hundreds of local papers to a few national papers would actually increase competition. While we might get a few less stories about cats being saved from trees in the local paper, we could well end up not with one paper selection (as we have today in most cities) but five or six different papers to choose from (just look at Britain). Some of these papers might choose to sell political neutrality while some might compete on political affiliation.