Thursday, July 2, 2009

"All the News That's Fit To?"

___I love newspapers. I love the routine in the morning of going out to the front step and

getting the paper and then sitting down in a quiet house and reading the latest news. I would

usually read the paper with one or more dogs laying near me and with some juice or toast to

knosh on while reading. The sports page comes first and then I move through the rest of the

paper, section by section. I know now that I am also not typical anymore. Studies and polls

and surveys show that readership is dropping, and revenue evaporating, and the American

newspaper is on life support. There is talk that the Hearst Corporation might shut down the

San Francisco Chronicle. Seattle has lost one of it's two remaining papers, as have Denver;

and Boston came very close to losing the Globe. You already know most of the culprits. The

internet is becoming the place where young people get their news(along with Jon Stewart and

Stephen Colbert). Craigslist offers free advertising of everything from soup to nuts and

reaches vast audiences. The cost of putting out a paper is rising and there is fear that the

habit of reading a paper is dying out. Add to that a depressed economy and the reduction in

ad purchases from auto companies et al., and the newspaper business is in deep kimchee.

___Why should you care? You can log on right now and go to web site after web site and

read the news for free. This, of course, includes web sites for the very papers we are discussing

(except the Wall Street Journal, which charges a fee to view it's site). Not only can you log on

to paper web sites, but you can also log onto CNN, MSNBC, FOX, CBS, NBC and ABC web sites

as well as CNBC, Bloomberg, and Fox business web sites too. If that is not enough, you can

then choose to read blogs like the Daily Kos, Huffington Post, and Think for more

news and analysis. The amount of information available is truly staggering considering that

most of it didn't exist twenty years ago. Again, the question remains should you care if the

Chronicle goes out of business? ( or maybe the Chronicle is not a good example, since many

would say it went out of business years ago,but how about the New York Times, Washington

Post, or the L.A. Times?)

___The reasons you should care are numerous; so let me count the ways. In many surveys,

Americans say they get a lot of news from their local TV news station. Others get news while

commuting in their car and listening to local news from their favorite news radio station(of

which there are fewer and fewer every day). The reality and problem is that very little of the

news and analysis you get from TV and radio is original. Every day TV and radio news

producers open up three, four, or five separate newspapers when they get to work to see

what the news is, and then decide which reporters will be assigned to which stories. The

morning papers set the news agenda of the day. Rarely does a local TV or radio station

break or develop original news stories. They may add to existing stories or expand an area

or two; but rarely does a newspaper find itself reporting on a news story generated by TV or

radio. It is not impossible, but it is rare. Most radio and TV stations have shut down their

bureaus. The only reason they show up at City Hall, the State Capital, or the Hall of Justice

is because news producers read about a story of interest from one of these places and send a

reporter to check or follow up. The Internet is no better.

___The Daily Kos or Huffington Post etc. are hugely dependent on the traditional news media

for content. They rarely generate original reporting on their own. Don't look to CNN or

MSNBC etc. for help either. If you watch most of their newscasts, particularly in the morning,

they mirror what is being reported by the Post or Times; and sometimes they just outright

steal from the work of print reporters to feed their program needs. Can you think of a major

scandal in the last 30-40 years that was broken on TV or radio or the Internet? Watergate,

Clintongate, torture, rendition, illegal spying, illegal wars, etc. were broken or investigated by

newspapers, and then the electronic press gets involved. Having been an investigative reporter,

and having won national awards, I cannot tell you how many times I worked on a story only to

be asked "If it's that important a story, why haven't we seen anything about it in any of the


___And by the way, what about news/talk shows? For years, you have heard Limbaugh,

Hannity, and O'Reilly etc. rant and rave about the liberal, biased, and prejudiced press. They

have made their livings on the day to day bashing of newspapers etc. all over the country. They

would have you believe there is nothing you can trust and no reason to read most of the

"commie/pinko/socialist rags". Yet, every day they have eight to ten of those rags spread out

in front of them. Can you think of a single example of original reporting ever produced by

Limbaugh et al? If newspapers did not exist, most of them would be left with nothing to say.

The very information that they translate into riches for themselves comes from the very

vehicles and industry that they constantly condemn.

___The founding fathers understood the value of a free and vigorous press in a democracy.

If the people don't know what's going on, if the people are not informed, if the people do not

have an independent voice to listen to about the antics of the rich and powerful, the

government and the governed; how can they make informed decisions?

___So what do we do? Will you pay to read the New York Times, Washington Post, or the

Chronicle online? So far, most of the papers have not come up with a model in which users

are willing to pay to read their product on a computer. The Wall Street Journal does charge a

fee, but it's more of a specialty paper and most people who pay for it online probably deduct

that cost as a business expense. Will you pay to read your local newspaper online?

___If not, then what? There is talk in Washington of passing a law allowing newspapers to be

treated like non-profit organizations, i.e. like churches, schools, or soup kitchens. This way

they would save a great deal of money on taxes on their physical plants, etc. There is also talk

of asking for a bailout from the government to keep papers afloat. If they can give billions to

AIG, then why not the New York Times? Certainly, in many ways, the Times is much more

vital to this democracy than is AIG, Goldman-Sachs, or Bank of America. The problem with

any government involvement is that newspapers would then be asked, no, required to bite the

hand that feeds them. They would be investigating and attacking the very people responsible

for keeping them going. The example of the government and public broadcasting should give

one a moment of pause. For years, regressive politicians have used PBS as a cultural punching

bag. They have tried to shut it down because they don't like some of it's content. Would they

do the same if newspapers depended on the government for help?

___It must also be said that all of this does not come at a good time for newspapers. For most

of the eight years of the Bush Administration, the nations pre-eminent papers did not cover

themselves in glory. Reporters for the New York Times were in league with the Bushies by

putting out false stories and hyping the danger of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post was killing or burying stories that were critical of the

administration's case for going to war. This is one example of how many blogs and alternative

media did a far better job of covering that period of time than the print media did. Critics

claim the print media, really all media, is corporate owned and the "corporate media" are

shills for the money and power interests in this nation. Would it be better to see them go the

way of the dodo and see what fills in the vacuum?

___I don't have a good answer at this point; but I am pretty sure I don't want to see

newspapers go out of existence. Sitting there in the morning with my juice and toast, pressing

buttons and reading a screen, doesn't do much for me. Will we be willing to pay for online

content? Should we let the alternative press fill the vacuum? Can blogs, et al do the kind of

original investigative reporting we need to keep an eye on the government? (not just federal about state and local corruption and incompetence?) If the government helps out,

will it compromise journalistic integrity? Is there any journalistic integrity left? Can we let

Rupert Murdoch own it all and just hope for the best? How will young people want their news

delivered? Will they want it at all?

___A free press is vital to an informed citizenry. Democracy cannot function with only the

electronic media. However, no one has a new model for how to preserve print media. What

do you think? I welcome your comments and rebuttals. Please send them to

1 comment:

  1. My local newspaper has tested several "e" formats. Although the earlier versions were too awkward to be workable, there have been some recent improvements. The latest version allows one to roll over links to stories, which instantly brings up a small popup with a headline and the first few sentences. If it looks interesting you click and the whole story opens in a larger window. This format reproduces to some extent the process of scanning headlines and articles in a paper newspaper to identify pieces that one may want to read in detail. Another bonus with the e-paper is that each article has a box for submitting comments. I have found that after a few days of reading the local e-paper I started to get to know some of the regular contributers, and there is some stimulating discussion that occurs about articles. This immediate interactivity is much better than the traditional paper, where it was quite troublesome to write a letter to the editor and only a few letters actually made it into the paper each day. I still subscribe to the paper edition of my local paper, and I still enjoy the toast and coffee at the newpaper-covered kitchen table. The e-edition, however, with it's easy accessability from anywhere, is gradually becoming a more regular part of my routine.