Critical Thinking: If You Were Warren Buffett, What Newspaper Would You Buy Next and Why?
Posted: 5/14/2013  |  By: Nu Yang
Q: If you were Warren Buffett, what newspaper would you buy next and why?    

Katherine Lymn, 22, University of Minnesota
Lymn is managing editor of the Minnesota Daily, the University of Minnesota’s award-winning campus newspaper, and has also written for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. She earned her journalism degree this past December and continues to work at the student newspaper.  

A: Warren Buffett recently told USA Today that a newspaper must be “indispensable to a significant proportion of the community” to succeed — that’s why he buys smaller newspapers that can cover an entire community. But that philosophy can be applied on a larger scale. Investigative reporting is how journalism will survive; it’s the one thing the Internet can’t take away or do better, faster.

That’s where Buffett should put his money next, and The Drill of Dickinson, N.D., is the perfect place to start. Go to where the news is and dig deep. Invest in top talent and resources to do enterprise reporting that reminds readers what journalism is for, at its core, and gives readers information they can’t get elsewhere.  

Take North Dakota’s oil boom. The Drill, which started last year, covers the boom from a crime, lawmaking, environment, and lifestyle perspective. National outlets have touched on the boom, but they can’t come close to covering the day-to-day breaking news, from staggering crime rates to deteriorating roads. Where there’s money and jobs, there’s opportunity for cover-ups and abuses of power — and, with that, opportunity for impactful investigative journalism of national significance. Editor Kevin Holten said there are more stories to write than there is room to publish.  

Thanks to these stories and the booming population that creates them, the 50,000-circulation Drill is already thriving. It expanded distribution to Fargo and other large eastern towns with its April issue, and surveys show its pass-along rate is three, meaning its audience reach is actually 150,000.  

North Dakota isn’t the only community that’s parched for investigative journalism. Health care, drones, and the prison system are all topics that need intense coverage. But North Dakota is the easiest place to experiment with Buffett’s model of comprehensible, indispensable journalism while still expanding that philosophy with investigative journalism.            

Chris Baker, 50, publisher, The Taos (N.M.) News
Baker joined The Taos News as publisher in 2000. During his tenure, the newspaper has been named best weekly in the U.S. in 2012, 2011, 2010, 2008, and 2007 by the National Newspaper Association of America. In 2012, the News was named the best weekly newspaper in the U.S. by the Local Media Association.  

A: I can only answer this question from my own experience at dailies and weeklies throughout the West. It’s an easy answer: The Taos News or any other mid-size or large weekly positioned correctly in the market. Full disclosure: I’m the publisher of The Taos News and it’s not for sale, but here’s why I’m so bullish on it.

1. A Legacy of innovation

Published for over 50 years, The Taos News has been a trailblazer in revenue and content development. Early niche publications like the visitor’s guides and arts and entertainment calendars of the ’80s. Slick gallery guides and weekly deals programs today. We’re always striving to stay a step ahead and protect our media interests.

2. Location

Taos is newsy. It’s got gritty back-room politics, stunning visual arts, landscapes that move you, an uneasy harmony of three cultures, and a tourism-based economy always tinged with enthusiasm for the next season. Package these qualities with the physical barriers of mountain ranges, river gorges, and seas of high desert sagebrush, and you’ve got a special place to be in the newspaper business. Isolation demands local news delivery. Meantime, that enthusiasm for the next tourist season cultivates robust niche publication growth. And all that news stuff? Well, it makes for inspiring and engaging papers every week.

3. Market share

Even 10 years ago it would have seemed more fun to parachute into an underperforming publication and set to work regaining market share. But in the dizzying media landscape of today, taking back what’s been lost by a local paper seems much, much more difficult. Because of our innovation and location, The Taos News has 100 percent weekly penetration into our home ZIP code and 86 percent penetration in the county. It takes hard work to maintain this position of strength. But we’re left with time to keep striving for new ways to deliver content and generate revenue.