Local newspapers can and will succeed if they make themselves indispensable to their readers by emphasizing local content, according to the world's most famous investor, Warren Buffett.
The chairman of Berkshire Hathaway is also the chairman of The Buffalo News, a paper he bought in 1977. (You can see his name on our editorial page in every day's print edition.)
Until recently, The News was his only newspaper (although he owns 23 percent of the Washington Post Co.). In December, Berkshire bought Buffett's hometown paper, the Omaha World-Herald. And Berkshire is now in the process of buying 63 more newspapers, including 26 dailies, a move that has surprised those who think that newspapers are in an unending death spiral.
In a detailed three-page letter to all of those editors and publishers, Buffett has laid out his thoughts on the purchase and on the future of newspapers. Here's the letter, which can also be viewed below. A Bloomberg story sums it up here.
"I believe newspapers that intensively cover their communities will have a good future," he wrote. He also offered his thoughts about the business model of newspapers in the digital age and predicted that Berkshire will continue buying newspapers in the next few years.
In a separate email exchange today, Buffett told me that he believes The News has made itself indispensable to its readers by emphasizing local news. (We recently reassigned much of our newsroom staff to provide deeper coverage of our suburbs and have placed more emphasis on local sports, local business and the local arts scene.)
And he explained why -- as he details in the letter -- The News is not part of the newly forming Berkshire media group.
"The Buffalo News has a special place in my heart and I would not want anybody positioned between me and its publisher and editor," Buffett wrote.
News publisher Stanford Lipsey, an Omaha native, is a longtime friend and business associate of Buffett's. And, as editor, I've appreciated the kind of owner Buffett is -- supportive but never intrusive.
The newspaper people who are about to become part of the Berkshire media group should be buying themselves some champagne. In the troubled world of newspapers, they're among the lucky ones.
And they should take very seriously Buffett's advice on owning local content. I know that I do.