Since news consumers started navigating towards the internet and especially social media for their news, the demise of newspapers was just a matter of time. The internet has disrupted news delivery like it has for the taxi industry with share-ride services or Amazon disrupting shoppers’ habits. News professionals blame the lack of stable revenue streams because the internet has upended advertising revenues. That is the easy blame. However, the reality is that the news industry lost its monopoly on the news delivery and it has refused to adopt to what consumers want in news – transparency and uncensored news.
Except for a few stubborn news outlets fueled by an aging population who have the need to feel paper as they consume the news, traditional print news is all but gone. What the future of news looks like remains in flux primarily because the revenue streams to fund news platforms remains unsettled.
El Paso’s newspaper of record is dying a slow painful death, each year spiraling into oblivion. The El Paso Times maintains a small staff of reporters in El Paso, the number is unclear, working remotely. El Paso’s newspaper no longer maintains infrastructure like printing presses or even offices in El Paso. El Paso’s newspaper of record* isn’t El Paso’s anymore, but rather it belongs to Phoenix where Gannett makes all the major decisions about El Paso’s news.
Less Than 1,000 Digital Subscribers
To understand how close the El Paso Times is to ending its long history in El Paso one need not look further than its digital subscribers. They are dismal.
According to information posted by Joshua Benton, the founder of NiemanLab, the El Paso Times has 697 digital subscribers. Less than 1,000 El Paso news consumers are willing to pay the El Paso Times for its news. (see note below)
Using Benton’s numbers, we find that the subscription rate for the El Paso Times has dropped by 57% in four years. The El Paso Times lost 13,736 of its subscribers in four years. This is a loss from an already low subscriber rate in 2018 of 24,286.
In the third quarter of 2022, the latest numbers available to us, the El Paso Times had 10,550 paying subscribers. That represents less than one percent (.015%) of El Paso’s population.
Gannett, the owner of the El Paso Times is in even worse share than its El Paso newspaper. In 2018, the company had 27,600 employees. Today it has 11,200 employees. Indications are that Gannett will continue to shrink its workforce even more.
Clearly El Pasoans aren’t getting their news from the El Paso Times.
Where Is El Paso Getting Its News?
Because El Pasoans are not consuming the El Paso Times’ content the question then becomes where are El Pasoans getting their news from? Although the El Paso Times offers some news on its website free of charge, the important news, especially about politics and public policy is normally behind paywalls.
There are several television news segments offered in El Paso. However, television news delivery does not allow for comprehensive news and information because of the limits imposed on television news reporting. The written word continues to be main vehicles for comprehensive news and news analysis.
That leaves two publications filling that void. This publication, the El Paso News and the non-profit El Paso Matters led by Bob Moore.
The two online publications follow two different funding mechanisms. The El Paso Matters is funded through the non-profit El Paso Community Foundation. As we reported, there is an inherent bias with philanthropy funding of news publications because donors “may retain inappropriate levels of control” over the online news publication.
The most obvious example of how donors may censor El Paso Matters is the malpractice cases filed in recent years against the El Paso Children’s Hospital. El Paso Matters has yet to report on any cases, especially on an ongoing case where a judge has issued an unprecedented order removing court documents on the docket to keep evidence out of the publics’ view.
The important news context to the El Paso Children’s Hospital case for any news media outlet is the keeping of information away from public scrutiny.
The other revenue model is the one used by us – self-funding to keep undue influence away from the decisions to publish news items away from the money used to run the publication. Although our funding mechanism is not ideal because it limits our ability to provide a robust news cycle to El Paso news consumers, it is the first path towards a more sustainable funding model where the consumers dictate the news coverage by their ownership of the publication. It is the model that Wikipedia has used for years. Wikipedia consumers not only fund the platform through their donations but also create the content that consumers consume.
Nonetheless, El Pasoans have only two sources of comprehensive news left, us and El Paso Matters.
The Case of Censorship
But for El Paso news consumers a void remains. No matter how hard we try it is impossible to fill the news needs of El Pasoans because of our limited budget and staffing to follow each lead. In the case of El Paso Matters, although they have the funding and the staffing, their inherent bias from their funding mechanism limits their reporting. Moreover, for a newspaper that depends on the freedom of speech regardless of what it has to say, the CEO of El Paso Matters, Bob Moore has no problem censoring voices he deems unacceptable to him.
Case in point is Bob Moore blocking the author from accessing Moore’s Twitter feed.
The poignant issue in blocking the author on Twitter, besides the obvious censorship, is that mechanically it does nothing. Moore’s content is still available when not logged into the Twitter platform.
At best, the block does not allow tagging Bob Moore’s account on news stories. This publication, as news publications should, has exposed journalistic malfeasance by El Paso Matters and Bob Moore over they years. We expect that when we fail to deliver that other news sources will also hold us to account. However, by blocking the author’s personal account and not the publication’s Twitter account allows us, should we wish to, tag Bob Moore’s Twitter account, suggesting that Moore’s blocking of the author’s account has more to do with personal bias than with limiting our exposing his bias and that of his publication.
El Pasoans Face A News Void
Unfortunately for El Paso news consumers, there remains a news void in El Paso especially when it comes to public policy, elections and the important issues facing the community. The television news channels and public radio can only fill so much of the void, leaving El Pasoans with us and El Paso Matters.
* A newspaper of record is the newspaper with the largest circulation in the community who is authoritative about the community.
A note about the source of subscriber data: Joshua Benton posted the El Paso Times subscriber information to his Twitter page last night in response to a request from Bob Moore’s wife, Kate Gannon, an associate professor at UTEP.
These are numbers posted by Benton to his Twitter account:
Q3 2022: 9,853 print, 697 digital, 10,550 total.
Q3 2018: 2,274 print, 2,012 digital, 24,286 total.