INDIANAPOLIS – The news wasn’t a surprise, but it was sad, nonetheless.
Nuvo, an alternative newspaper in Indianapolis, plans to cease publication at the end of May. The word came in a note from Kevin McKinney, who was first Nuvo’s publisher and then its foundation director when the publication tried to reinvent itself as a non-profit.
In its day, Nuvo was a sassy voice in the Indiana media chorus, often provocative, sometimes crude, occasionally completely off-base.
But it was lively and never failed to deliver on its essential promise – to provide a different and alternative perspective in a media world that too often moves in lockstep.
It will be missed.
For much of its 30-year history, Nuvo was a free print publication, one that survived courtesy of advertising revenues. But, as businesses have found more and more ways to connect with customers that don’t involve traditional media, advertising dwindled.
Last year, Nuvo ended its print publication run. McKinney and a stripped-down team made a valiant effort to reposition the paper as a not-for-profit digital presence, one that championed transparency and the importance of community conversations.
Such efforts, though, rarely succeed without major-gift philanthropic support. Nuvo stayed true to its grass-roots principles.
Right to the end.
Nuvo’s struggles are mirrored by much of the rest of the newspaper industry. Surveys show that newsrooms now employ less than half the number of people they did 20 years ago. And nearly one out of every five newspapers in the country – some with long and distinguished pedigrees – has gone under in the past 15 years.
Here in Indiana, the news that Nuvo would be closing its doors was accompanied by reports of large numbers of layoffs in the news business. Veteran journalists, many of them award winners, found themselves without work – and a paycheck.
Skeptics might argue that there is nothing unusual about this.
Industries rise and fall all the time. Not that long ago, for example, a lot of people made good livings selling and servicing fax machines. Now, not so much.
The skeptics have a point – sort of.
In most other instances, an industry disappears because something better has come along to replace it. The fax machine departed because email and cell phones provided the same sort of service, but better, faster and more efficiently.
That hasn’t been the case with newspapers – particularly local newspapers. As they go, they leave a void, one that nothing else has been able to fill yet.
Many studies now show that the decline of newspapers has produced a corresponding decline in civic participation and basic understanding of our communities, states and country. We simply know less about the world around us than we did when newspapers were a thriving concern.
Worse, those studies show that, even as we know and understand less, we have become more strident and rigid regarding our beliefs and affiliations. In other words, as newspapers die, we have become more and more confident in our ignorance.
Thus, we end up spending much of our time shouting at each other across a widening chasm.
At one time, there was hope that social media might replace traditional news media, but that hasn’t been the case.
For one thing, most social media platforms still rely on traditional media for content.
For another – and this is perhaps more important – the algorithms that determine so much of what we see on social media are set to confirm, rather than confront, our biases. We get a lot of reinforcement of preconceived notions in this new media world – and not nearly enough encouragement to think again or consider events from a different point of view.
Nuvo’s demise and the large numbers of layoffs in the newspaper world tell us things are going to get worse still.
And that’s sad.
Because, when we say goodbye to a newspaper such as Nuvo, we aren’t just saying goodbye to it.
No, we Americans, we Hoosiers, we neighbors and fellow citizens, also are saying goodbye to each other.