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Newspapers’ Self-Inflicted Wounds

Posted on Mar 26, 2009

By David Sirota

        At Northwestern University in the mid-1990s, the journalism professor with the most devoted student following was an understated teacher who said that substantive writing and reporting isn’t everything, it’s the only thing. Alternately despondent and sanguine, he reminded me of Grady from the book “Wonder Boys” when he told us that he spent weekends drinking in his closet and that he corrected papers in green ink because “green is the color of hope.”

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        Professor Kupetz has since left Northwestern, and journalism is today running dangerously low on his emerald-hued optimism. Judging by the fatalistic declarations after this month’s collapse of newspapers in Denver and Seattle, the industry is morosely drinking in its closet, wondering what went wrong.

        Most newspaper postmortems insist that decreased ad revenues brought on by the Internet and the recession caused journalism’s problems, not self-inflicted wounds. If that was entirely accurate, then readers might lament newspapers’ decline as a loss of must-read content. Instead, Pew polls find “many Americans wouldn’t care a lot if local papers folded.”

        In light of that, allow me to use these dwindling column inches to float an alternate hypothesis: While technological and economic forces certainly battered newspapers, journalism also delivered a one-two punch to its own jaw.

        First, financially strapped newspapers undermined their comparative advantage by replacing audience-attracting local exclusives with cheaper national content. Then, the providers of that national content diverted resources from tough-to-report investigative journalism that builds loyal readership and into paparazzi-like birdcage liner that unconvincingly portrays politicians, CEOs and their minions as celebrities.

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        “In place of comprehensive, complex and idiosyncratic coverage, readers of even the most serious newspapers were offered celebrity and scandal, humor and light provocation,” says journalist-turned-director David Simon, whose HBO series “The Wire” examined this trend.

        The most preventable tragedy was the deterioration of quality. Downsized local publications were all but forced to rely on more national content, but that content didn’t have to become so vapid.

        Beltway scribes didn’t have to miss the lies about the Iraq war or the predictive signs of the Wall Street meltdown. Election correspondents weren’t compelled to devote four times the coverage to the tactical insignifica of campaigns than to candidates’ positions and records, as the Project for Excellence in Journalism found. Business reporters didn’t need to give corporate spokespeople twice the space in articles as they did workers and unions, as a Center for American Progress report documents. National editors weren’t obligated to focus on “elevat[ing] the most banal doings” in the White House to “breaking news,” as The New York Times recently noted.

        But that’s what happened. Rather than investing in the valuable steel and concrete of hard reporting, national news outlets began printing the most worthless kind of commercial paper—rumors, personality profiles and other such speculative derivatives that consumers could find elsewhere. News, in short, mimicked finance: Just as Wall Street made bets on bets with credit default swaps and then watched investors bolt, print journalism mass-produced gossip about gossip, and now sees its audience flee.

        Can we blame readers? If local news is gone and national news aims to celebrify Washington, can we really fault Americans for paying attention to chatter about Hollywood hardbodies rather than about D.C.‘s paunchy pocket protectors?

        I’d say no. If it’s a choice between a Filmdrunk.com scoop on Vin Diesel’s latest movie and a local reprint of the Washington Post’s A1 cliché on the “hard-charging approach” and dating strategy of mid-level Obama aide Jim Messina, most of us will (understandably) tune into the B-movie star, not the bureaucrat—and neither Google nor AIG has anything to do with that decision. Until the news industry acknowledges that truth—until it relearns professor Kupetz’s lessons—no rationalization, green ink or private benders will save journalism.

        David Sirota is the best-selling author of the books “Hostile Takeover” (2006) and “The Uprising” (2008). He is a fellow at the Campaign for America’s Future. Find his blog at OpenLeft.com or e-mail him at ds@davidsirota.com.

© 2009 Creators Syndicate Inc.


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By Kesey Seven, March 30, 2009 at 1:26 pm Link to this comment

Dear Mr. Goodman,

No, I did not notice your typos. Me commenting about typos would definitely be calling the kettle black. 

Regarding “the best of all possible worlds,” my father is 80-years-old as well, so I realize what you’re not saying is just as important as what you are saying. 

We can all only hope to age with such grace and courage and wisdom.

Take care.

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By Anarcissie, March 30, 2009 at 7:32 am Link to this comment

Tony Wicher:
‘I don’t even know what “the U.S. ruling class” is.’ ...

Then you don’t want to know.  And it is very difficult to overcome a studied will to ignorance.

However, should you change your mind, just ask yourself who decides whether or not to invade Afghanistan, or give trillions of dollars to rich bankers, stock brokers, and financial corporations after they made a disaster of the economy.  Nobody asked you, did they?  And they didn’t ask me, either.  They probably didn’t ask anyone you know, unless you have some very unusual friends.

Keep asking.  Follow the money.

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By everynobody, March 30, 2009 at 12:34 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Mercy, what’ll I put in the bottom of the bird’s cage?

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By samosamo, March 29, 2009 at 10:31 pm Link to this comment

Give me control of a country’s money and media and I don’t care who makes the laws.
Just a little ad lib to a famous quote of a rothchild from way back in the early 20th century. He as talking about the money but what a lot of people don’t know is that the ‘elite’ want control of both the money and media. And lord amightly, isn’t it a wonderful mess now. Well, just for shits and giggles I’ll offer this again as it still speaks for the plight of basically the msm but about information distribution in general. Go to Robert Kane Pappas’ website ‘orwell rolls in his grave’ and order the dvd. The last edition was done in 2004 I believe and it relates the distortion of the information presented to us by those wonderful people like the very patriotic rupert murdoch, jack welch and others.
But here we deal with local newpapers and the apparent demise of a lot of them for whatever reasons. One I can think of is that more and more people are indulging in their favorite passtime of ‘pursuing happiness’ so no time for reading a newspaper. Another, people want a talking head to talk down to them, not that there are not some very good anchors that present some very worthy information. But on either venue the trend has gone to a lot of disinformation, no information and fluff and bullshit. Here is a sampling from today’s msnbc’s website:
*********************************************
Stocks’ March rally will be tested this week

22 killed at soccer stampede in Ivory Coast

Changes in D.C. prompt run on guns and ammo

He’s back! Tiger claims sixth Bay Hill title

Newsweek: The perils of financial lingo

Huffington Post plans investigative journalism venture

Best bets: ‘ER’ treats its final patient this week

‘Les Folies Bergere’ hangs up feathers for good

‘Monsters vs. Aliens’ enjoys monster weekend

Madonna expected to sign adoption papers

Doctors remove fishing spear from man’s brain
*************************************************
Got some real winners here, don’t we? Yeah, that’s the kind of stuff that really helps keep those veggies informed. I do use msnbc webpage for some information of which is the idea of seeing how ridiculus our handlers treat us.
So, as been said by many, keep saying the same thing over and over and people will believe it and demand more of it. And here is a supposed favorite quote of rupert murdoch and the neocons by joseph goebbels:
‘We need ostensible diversity to conceal actual conformity’
and another
‘Think of the press as a great keyboard on which the government can play’.
Pretty cute aren’t they?
But when boils down to it, giving up the printed word is a huge mistake. The electricity can go out or the ‘ministry of truth’ will decide our history for us. But the written word in book, magazines or newspapers, will keep for a while and can be referenced relatively fast unless the ‘elite’ want to make some more bonfires.

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By doug, March 29, 2009 at 10:10 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Another angle:

Most newspapers are experiencing blow-back from their conservative economic editorial bias.

People don’t have the time and money to buy newspapers when they’re working two or three jobs for $10/hour.

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By Ibett, March 29, 2009 at 4:39 pm Link to this comment

To Anarcissie,  That is the problem, people do not want the real news, find it “boring”!  They rather have gossip and crap about Hollywood or who which congressman is “banging”!
I agree with Jackie9/the reason these papers are going under is because there is no “real” reporting!  I want news about the war, about India, Pakistan, Britian, etc. I want news about pending bills in congress and TRUTH in news not someones lame opinion!
Too bad there are no more like Jackie9’s dad, or Howard Zenn or Studs Trekel, I love Tom Hayden, but he isn’t as hard hitting as he used to be.

Give us NEWS!
Ibett

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By garth, March 29, 2009 at 3:43 pm Link to this comment

Newspapers were actually succesful.  They paid about % 20 return to the investors.  The only problem was that with the tech and real estate bubbles, % 20 was not enough.
Sam Zell took a gamble and borrowed heavily to buy the Chicago Tribune papers, which included the LA Times among others.  Twenty percent return was not enough to repay his huge debt, so he started cutting.
Large newspaper chains started buying small independents and according to their business model, they could cut out the news and sell advertising and make money.
The internet was waiting in the wings.

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By Joe Hayes, March 29, 2009 at 12:29 pm Link to this comment

I don’t think the hardcopy papers lost their soul… I think it’s more the fact that people can read the same exact news they post in their paper on the Internet. So why buy?

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By StuartH, March 29, 2009 at 11:59 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Sirota is largely right.  But behind the curtain, the rise of the corporate form of lawsuit strategy has a lot to do with it.  You may discover irrefutable proof that a major public figure is dealing drugs while fulminating against drugs in public.

However, the editor and publisher, contemplating such a story (and there could be many examples in a variety of categories) have to consider how much money it would cost to defend against a lawsuit.  The corporate strategy for lawsuits is not to consider winning as the prime objective.  Instead, the prime objective is to drive up the cost until the other side can no longer sustain it.  When one corporation sues another, they assumption is that this will cost millions.  When a local publication considers this, they realize quickly they can not play in this game.  So they defer to reality and work on stories that carry less risk. 

So on the one hand, there is the threat of lawsuits that can come from even the best reporting, and on the other hand the pressure from advertisers to work coverage angles that best bless commercial results. 

Those are insurmountable pressures and we see the result.  Journalism is nearly dead. 

Can the net provide a way for truth-tellers to engage the public without being exposed to these pressures?  That is the critical question.  It may be that ways will be found to exert those influences over content in this medium. 

We have to hope that ways will be found to counterveil those threats.

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By Anarcissie, March 29, 2009 at 8:49 am Link to this comment

There is an amusing thing about this discussion.  A fundamental problem for the newspapers, as a type of media, is that people don’t read, or read as little as they can.  Maybe they never did, or maybe this is a new thing caused by drugs or television or the government or whatever.  Newspapers made their way with advertising—display and classified.  The advertising carried on its back the lies and puffery on the front page, the droning on the editorial page, the circuses on the sports page.  One ignored about 99% of the content to get at what one wanted—the classified ads, the comics, Dear Abby, the obituaries as one got on in years.

The Net, as Shirky observed in the article whose URL I posted, changed all that.  You can skip the ads and the sports and the droning and go straight to craigslist or whatever it is you want. 

But of course it seems that none of you read Shirky’s article.  The problem isn’t the content, the lack of “investigative news” (most of which, by the way, is a dreadful bore); the problem is that the Internet is a better medium for what people want than newspapers, and in fact by and large they don’t want to read long articles, or even short articles like Shirky’s.  As you have demonstrated for yourselves.  Neat, eh?

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By Frank Goodman, Sr., March 29, 2009 at 8:05 am Link to this comment

Re: Kesey Seven, March 28 at 8:38 pm

Thank you Kesey. Did you note the typos? Good thing I use touch typing in QWERTY that I learned on a manual Royal typewriter in high school typing class. My Royal did not have the letters on the keys. They were blank to teach us the real meaning of life. We have to fill in the blanks and erase the errors. Best damn course I had in high school. It taught me not to lie, but if I did, it marked the attempt for future reference. Oh! I took an English proficiency test to go from second year to third year at University of Kansas, 1953. Also, Western Civilization, not now expected in any college I know of. My computer keyboard allows me to correct my errors so long as I do it before I hit ‘send.’ My mistakes taught me the rest of what I needed to succeed in life. My kids could not learn from my mistakes or theirs. Not to worry—life expectancy has increased from 64 when I was in my 20s to about 70 now. I am up about ten years against the house. I never gambled until I reached my present age and now I gamble every night when I go to bed and every morning when I arise. The day I lose, I will not know it.  This is the best of all possible worlds.

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By Jackie9, March 29, 2009 at 7:50 am Link to this comment

Newspapers lost their soul. Money more important than the truth. Money more important than important issues. Money more important than ballsy investigative reporting.

My father was a tough, bs-hating newspaper man and I always loved reading the papers. Not anymore. I also know a couple of young women, recent grads of journalism school who are now reporters, and I hate to say: OMG. They are bland, conventional and wouldn’t whisper boo to anyone in authority, never mind dig and whistle blow anything.  It’s all about being a good little employee of the corporation.

I’d read a great paper, if only I could find one. I really do pine for courageous reporting so much.

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By Jackie9, March 29, 2009 at 7:49 am Link to this comment

Newspapers lost their soul. Money more important than the truth. Money more important than important issues. Money more important than ballsy investigative reporting.

My father was a tough, bs-hating newspaper man and I always loved reading the papers. Not anymore. I also know a couple of young women, recent grads of journalism school who are now reporters, and I hate to say: OMG. They are bland, conventional and wouldn’t whisper boo to anyone in authority, never mind dig and whistle blow anything.  It’s all about being a good little employee of the corporation.

I’d read a great paper, if only I could find one. I really do pine for kick ass reporting so much.

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By Samson, March 28, 2009 at 11:13 pm Link to this comment

I’ve lived in Denver for the last five years.  In that time, I don’t think I ever bought a copy of the Rocky Mountain News.  The problem was, it stunk as a newspaper.

As both Sirota and the comments point out, it did like all other American papers and stressed paparazzi and sports and ‘living’ sections.

Meanwhile, it completely failed to inform me about key facts about the Iraq war or to give warning of the financial collapse, just to name two examples.

Its ‘news’ reporting was the modern American standard of getting a few quotes from the powerful, then writing articles about them without even checking the facts.  One often sees factual errors in that paper (and its survivor, the Denver Post) that are printed just because someone powerful would say it.

As a ‘news’ source, these papers are useless to me.  I have no faith in them.  They are willing to print total bull giving only un-named sources as their citations.  They completely fail to cover important stories.  They completely fail to give any alternative views, like for instance economists like Dean Baker who warned of this collapse.

About all I can say about the Rocky Mtn News is good riddance.  If I want to read about the Broncos, I can still go to the Denver Post’s website.  For anything else, I wouldn’t have trusted them to tell me the sun was going to rise in the east the next day anyways.

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By Richard_Ralph_Roehl, March 28, 2009 at 10:30 pm Link to this comment

What are pro-$ports stories doing on the front page of the newes-paper? Eh?

How many times have I visited a city somewhere in the United $tates and bought the local paper… only to discover that news is really newes, and that the editors are putting $ports (a.k.a.: bread an’ circus) on the front page (in lieu of the $port section). It is outrageous that the sex life of a multi-million dollar college footballing coach in a city far from home base is big news on the front page! Corp-rat own newes-papers, the soidisant ‘free press’, is dying because it works more to keep people $tewepid in lieu of informed. This is why I’m on the internet. I can get outside of the Amerika’s propagan-duh $ystem.

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By San Diego, March 28, 2009 at 9:41 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

San Diego’s paper ACTUALly SOLD! See this BusinessClub article. 
It was failing though.  Slow to change, and far too safe to be interesting.  I wonder if the genre will survive.  Sometimes a person just doesn’t want the news. With the online versions it doesn’t pile up and wait for you to recycle it.

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By Kesey Seven, March 28, 2009 at 5:38 pm Link to this comment

Dear Frank Goodman, Sr.,

That is, I believe, the most beautiful writing I’ve ever seen on any Web forum.  Thank you.

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By Frank Goodman, Sr., March 28, 2009 at 4:30 pm Link to this comment

There is a certain nostalgia at the passing of products of their times. I am old enough to have seen the passing of many mainstays of nostalgia.

I lived at the end of the horse and buggy era and the beginning of the horseless carriage and the flying machines. I also lived at the early stages of mass communication in the form of radio, with my first crystal set I built at 9 years of age. I saw my first B&W TV after I turned 20. I saw my first color TV when I was in college after 4 years in the Army, during which we fought the Korean War. I saw my first computer while in an advanced officer course while I was an officer at age 37. I saw my first glimpse of a space rocket at Cape Canaveral at about age 55. The space station is up and running as I write. Rovers are on Mars and will soon be on the Moon and maybe other planets. I did paternity tests using blood typing and now much more accurate and certain paternity tests are now done with DNA testing, the basis of which was discovered by Watson & Crick when I was a senior in college.  I saw the coming of antibiotics, open heart surgery, cloning and stem cell research. Now I see HD TV on cable as broadcast TV goes digital. I saw 78 RPM record, 45 RPM discs, and 33 RPM discs then the CD and DVD. My first HiFi had 5 separate components and several speakers. Now my daughter listens to over a thousand selections on a gadget she carries in her purse. Head phones for HiFi weighed at least a pound, now they are buds in the ears. I saw the coming of wireless phones and the breaking up of AT&T, which we affectionately or not so affectionately called MA Bell.  I saw the coming of the diesel engine that replaced the steam ship and steam powered trains of my youth. I also saw the coming of the nuclear powered submarine and aircraft carrier.

I mourn the passing of Pluto as the smallest and most distant planet. Many of the things I saw come into existence have joined the horse and buggy and the steam engine. Black and white TV is no more. The slide rule I used in my college calculus class is a relic. So is the abacus I bought while stationed in Japan. Copper pennies and silver dimes are gone. The silver dollar is a museum item. The red seal $5 bill is no longer part of the national debt; the silver certificate is gone. The copper color zinc penny is worth less than the Missouri one mill tax token when I was ten. I would need about 250 tax tokens for a penny candy now. In 1938 I only needed ten. The tax token is gone with penny candy.

I got over the horse and buggy along with the cleanup tools carried into town on Saturday shopping. TV still sometimes goes swiggly and wiggly, but I no longer have to twist dials to get the color right or go outside in the snow to adjust the antenna to eliminate show on the screen inside. I don’t miss B&W TV, B&W Kodak prints, slide rules, abacus, and fading FM stations. I don’t miss the Church key bottle opener or the cloth diapers. I do miss the family values of my parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts. I do miss the leisure time we spent together popping corn telling stories and playing with the kids. I guess I will miss the sunday paper with the comic strips and detailed editorials on public policy decisions.

Get used to change. Give up the newspaper, but remember how it was so you can tell about it when you get to be 80. It is fun. If you have your memories, blindness won’t bother you so much. Will somebody help me to the bathroom please. Thank modern times for the indoor plumbing devices. Outdoor privies are no more. I don’t miss them either. I sometimes miss the modern device where I urinate.

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By TAO Walker, March 28, 2009 at 1:45 pm Link to this comment

To paraphrase the ancient Sages:  Persons and Peoples having organic functional integrity do not become the agents of their own degradation.  So much “media CONtent” these days is an open invitation to its “CONsumers” do just that….and those who slap-happily ‘RSVP’ in the-affirmative only re-inforce the panderers’ low opinions of “the general public.”  So it all gets to be just one more hyper-amplified circuit in the CONglomeration of positive-feed-back-loops driving the “global” gangbang to its well-deserved self-destruction.

On the “plus-side,” as the need for immediately reliable information about the condition their CONdition is in (right where they live-and-breathe) reasserts itself among domesticated people, they will once again have to get together face-to-face to share and compare their own here/now Personal impressions….cutting-out all the artificial interMEDIAries, with “private” vested interests to protect and advance.  After awhile our tame Sisters and Brothers will remember how to see in those “local” events and circumstances accurate reflections of how things are in the Whole Living Arrangement….and to respond effectively to them in ways that are mutually beneficial to ALL CONCERNED.

So there’s no need, really to lament the passing of newspapers….nor will there be when TV and the internet reach the point of their own inevitable obsolescence.  They’ll all’ve had their “day,” having been at-best superfluous crutches, anyway, things whole healthy Human Beings don’t need and live better without….and so can only be degraded by taking them up.  Of course in throwing them away we will have the benefit of having been made stronger by living-through things that were intended-to but didn’t kill us.

So David Sirota is simply describing here one more step toward the recovery of true Living Community, among peoples who’ve had to suffer along for so long with only its commercially useful counterfeit.  Hardly something “....to get hurt about,” now is it?

HokaHey!

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By Kesey Seven, March 28, 2009 at 11:34 am Link to this comment

Mr. Sirota:

It’s interesting you mention The Wire because it brings to mind another hole local newspapers blast in their own foot: Self censorship. 

Imagine The Wire on a censored network (ABC, NBC, CBS, for example).  The show simply would not exist.  It could have never come to be. The executives would have taken one look at it, said, “This is not suitable for children, this will offend our advertisers, this will offend the Puritans. Next script please.”

The same thing happens with newspapers but they don’t even realize it. Editors and publishers will tell you they only censor expletives, meaningless vulgar sounds in speech. But the truth is far different. 

An unending deluge of Puritanical brainwashing forces journalists to take on the attitude of the hall monitor, the tattletale, the keeper of the pubic stocks, the brander of the scarlet letter.

Be it prostitution, drugs, marital infidelities or simply saying stupid schtuff in front of a microphone, the MSM, with newspapers in the lead, locks the perp in the public stocks, hands out rocks and garbage to the rest of us, and we happily pelt the poor moron who’s committed the morality crime.   

Here’s a secret:  We hate you for it, Mr. Newspaper.  We help you hurl the garbage then feel a nasty pit in our stomach afterwards.  When you publish pictures of “Johns” in your newspapers, when you help take down Elliot Spitzer with your wall-to-wall coverage and your pious editorials, when you crucify the minister in Colorado Springs who was snorting meth and slinging salami with a male prostitute, when you breathlessly publish the details of the latest drug bust—we hate your guts.  We read it. We love it. But we hate your guts because we realize it could be any one of us at any given time.

Most thinking people realize—from the late William F. Buckley to former President Jimmy Carter—that the drug war is bad policy because it fuels violence, creates illicit income that could otherwise be taxed, fills our prisons, and facilitates the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, most notably HIV.  The same can be said about prostitution.  If it were regulated, prostitutes and their customers could undergo mandatory testing for STDs, profits could be taxed, IDs could be verified to ensure everyone is a legal alien and of legal age, and prostitutes who are abused could go to the authorities without fear of more abuse.

Based on these self-evident facts, as well as the historical fact that drug and prostitution laws have more to do with diabolical religious beliefs than protecting the public health, newspapers could simply refuse to cover the vice beat. 

But newspapers can’t make that call, because starting with the deletion of expletives and ending with calling themselves a family newspaper, they adopt a “what will the children think” attitude that is not in the best interest of society or their own financial well being. 

Perhaps if newspapers are to rise out of the dust and align themselves in cyberspace, they will realize the world is not Rated G. Instead of publications approaching the world with a Leave It To Beaver perspective, they will look at it from the perspective of The Wire. Instead of cracking their peanuts when someone like Elliot Spitzer commits a vice crime, they will ignore it and swarm after the people who are committing and facilitating financial fraud.

Otherwise, the message newspapers will continue getting from readers is:  “Tip on off, yo.”

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By Eric L. Prentis, March 27, 2009 at 7:52 pm Link to this comment

TV, radio and most all newspapers are just organs for spewing their corporate sponsors’  propaganda to the gullible public. Pravda, in its influential days, never had it so good. What, about this mind control, will be missed.

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By freedom loving american, March 27, 2009 at 2:36 pm Link to this comment

I subscribe to a local newspaper and The Nation.  I never buy any other periodicals or newspapers. Until recently I subscribed to many newspapers and maybe a dozen periodicals.  I wanted to keep up on current events and I wanted diverse opinions. There is no diversity in the MSM in America today. They are all republican controlled republican owned and republicans sponsored. 

Today I view Democracy Now watch Keith and Rachael on MSNBC and Bill Moyer on PBS.  I read a few truth seeking blogs like Common Dreams and The DailyKos and I’m much better informed than I’ve ever been in my life.

In conclusion, I’m sorry to see newspapers go however, when they stopped investigative reporting and sold out entirely to the Republican Party and becoming an extension of the lies and deceit, they destroyed themselves.  I’m aware the rich have always owned and controlled the news media but since 1980 the “free press” in this country is about as free as the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

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By Anarcissie, March 27, 2009 at 2:14 pm Link to this comment

garth—if the people in that Kentucky town are not being served by what’s left of their newspaper, and they want a different, real newspaper, why doesn’t someone start one?  Someone must have started the previous one.  If the answer is, “It won’t make enough money to survive”, maybe this is an indicator that the people don’t really want a different, real newspaper.  I don’t know, but I doubt if mysterious beings from Connecticut are annihilating newspapers by means of mystical powers.  I suspect that people don’t actually want to read them much any more.  They’re on their way to flyerdom.

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By Anarcissie, March 27, 2009 at 1:44 pm Link to this comment

’... It turned out that the best-read items were things like Ann Landers’ and Dear Abby’s advice, the comics and the sports page.  Most of this rubbish can be classified under the well-know title of “human interest.” ...’

A wise choice, I’d say.  I’d much rather read Ann Landers’ and Dear Abby’s rubbish than such blatantly offensive rubbish as the front page of the New York Times.

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By garth, March 27, 2009 at 1:22 pm Link to this comment

A friend of mine was recently forced into retirement from his job as editor of small town newspaper in Kentucky.  When it was a privately owned paper he had two reporters plus himself to cover the news and a receptionist/secretary to maintain the office and do the billing.
They were taken over by a newspaper chain out of Connecticutt and now the paper consists of one receptionist/secretary and one computer with an internet connection.  They cover items like advertisements, obituaries, church notices, government announcements, recipes, and oh, did I say advertisements.  Are those people being served?
With the news coverage in that town, it might be said that there are people who don’t know and people who don’t know that they don’t know.

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By Taoseno, March 27, 2009 at 12:54 pm Link to this comment

There doesn’t seem to be a lot of empathy here for the demise of newspapers…even among intelligent TruthDiggers.

I think Chris Hedges said it well in a recent article when he said we live in “an age of moral nihilism.” Too many journalists have bent over for their corporate masters and not given their readers the real scoop. What’s missing now is not good newspapers, but good journalism. I’ll take it wherever I can find it.

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By "Papa" John Daviso, March 27, 2009 at 11:59 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I think the newspapers missed the boat regarding the Internet. Was it hubris that made them turn their nose up at online journalism? If they had been more alert, they would have come out on top of E-news, especailly since they were, in fact, the one’s in the best postion to do so. Instead, they belittled online jouralism and journalists. From what I know about the economics of newspapers, after advertising and subscriptions, classifieds bring in the most revenue, so why didn’t the Seattle PI come up with the equivilant of Craig’s List?

For those who profer that papers only delivered what the public wanted, I think you’re mistaken.
The “real” news saturates the Internet, where most of those who are after it, now, turn to. I doubt the numbers have changed, much, regarding who read the papers for pap in the hay-day of newspapers and who goes on line for it, today. Like the Internet, newspapers alwasy tried to reach as large and diverse an audience as it could, which accounts for the various sections, from entertainment to op-ed.

Publishing costs online must be a fraction of what it costs to put out a wood-pulp paper. Had the newspapers jumped on the cyber band wagon, perhaps it may have allowed the newspapers to be less beholden to those with the deep pockets and, indeed, print the “real” news or whatever else their paid subscribers wanted.

I subscribe to the NYT crossward puzzle and participate in their online discussion group. The Forum members once estimated that the Gray Lady was taking in millions of dollars, per year, just for the daily puzzle subscriptions. Just think of how many tress are spared because so many now can do that puzzle online…

As PDAs and lap tops become more ubiquitous, and as WiFi becomes more available, I can easily foresee the coffee shops and subways filled with patrons and cummuters reading their local newspapers, just like they always have, and for the same reasons—be that sports, current events, fashion, entertainment, comics, business or, as in my case, a good crossword puzzle.

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By grumpynyker, March 27, 2009 at 11:48 am Link to this comment
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Sorry, have no sympathy for any of these rags facing bankruptcy.  Too many lower-to-upper middle class white men/women spewing the ad nauseum stereotypes about blacks (while not hiring qualified blacks/browns/yellows to give any context to stories), feigning crocodile tears over plight of border-hopping Latino cheap labors, never honestly reporting news events here and abroad.  In the age of free market capitialism, shut them down and good riddance.

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By felicity, March 27, 2009 at 11:35 am Link to this comment

Shift - hit the nail on the head.  I cancelled my LATimes subscription when it cancelled Scheer and coincidentally or otherwise replaced him with somebody named Goldberg whose oped commentary made my breakfast undigestable.

I know CBS News isn’t a newspaper but its practices are still indicative of what afflicts today’s news business.  It cost that outfit $7 million/year to run its entire Baghdad bureau while it was paying its CEO $40 million/year.

The priorities of the news business may have turned their owners and CEO’s on, but they have ended up turning us off.

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By Fadel Abdallah, March 27, 2009 at 11:31 am Link to this comment

In my way of thinking and value system, what’s ailing the newspapers industry is the same thing ailing the economy, the society and the moral values of the times.
Some people call it the law of cause and effect, others call God’s retribution and others attribute it to NEMESIS, the goddess of retribution, who punishes human transgression of the natural, right order of things and the arrogance, greed, selfishness and short-sightedness that cause it!

Remember that the concept of NEMESIS was created by the Greeks, the originators of all Western thought, even before the concept of Monotheism and the One Universal, Transcendent God of Justice took hold among most people of the world.

If we believe in a human-made justice system, where a recalcitrant human being can sit on a judging bench do dispense rewards and punishments among equally recalcitrant human beings, why not believe in accept a Universal Transcendent God who is capable of rewards and punishment in the Cause of Justice?!

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By Shift, March 27, 2009 at 10:30 am Link to this comment

Simply put, newspapers did not change in intelligent ways; instead, they became captives of both the advertising department and the conventional culture. Peoples lives were progressively getting worse and newspapers missed it, they became a diversion.  They dumbed down too much and lost the intelligent readers. Their irrelevance is self imposed.

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By AWM, March 27, 2009 at 10:21 am Link to this comment

The msm is owned by the same people who own the corporations and government they are nothing but the propaganda arm of the ruling elites and has been used to further their agenda.
Unfortunately they they have been highly successful in brainwashing the masses into compliance with their agenda.
Hopefully the tide is beginning to turn as more people wake up to this fact
I would like to end by thanking Truthdig for providing an oasis from the storm

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By DiscipleOfXs, March 27, 2009 at 9:39 am Link to this comment

Newspapers print the content that their customers want to see most, and that is the problem.  The actual customer of the newspaper is not the subscriber, but the advertising agencies.  MOST of the $$ that come to support a newspaper comes not from its subscribers, but from advertising, and anything that might reflect badly on those companies (or the commercial companies that own even most local newspapers, not to mention every national paper) will not get printed or said. 

This is nothing new, the only “new” thing here is how transparent the process has become.

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By Bill Barger, March 27, 2009 at 8:50 am Link to this comment
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When I was in journalism school (University of Kansas, 1948-49), my teachers noted that newspapers run surveys on what is read most in their pages.  It turned out that the best-read items were things like Ann Landers’ and Dear Abby’s advice, the comics and the sports page.  Most of this rubbish can be classified under the well-know title of “human interest.”  In comparison, hard news fared poorly, local hard news risked lawsuits, often offended powerful people and was more expensive to obtain.  The newspapers we see floundering are those whose readers get the same rubbish on TV and the internet, for less cost.  As a result. TV (if not yet the internet) is getting much more advertising.  And don’t put down the internet—human interest stuff
there is biting into the print ad revenues as well.
In sum, don’t blame the newspapers, blame the public that gobbles this garbage up by the ton.  Bill Barger

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By Anarcissie, March 27, 2009 at 7:49 am Link to this comment

Here’s a far more intelligent, insightful and interesting comment on the predicament of newspapers:
http://www.shirky.com/weblog/2009/03/newspapers-and-thinking-the-unthinkable/

Shirky actually has some thoughts of his own about the situation, instead of flogging ancient complaints about content—that is, “The newspapers are dying because they don’t print stuff I agree with.”

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By garth, March 27, 2009 at 7:37 am Link to this comment

Great article!  I agree wholeheartedly, and I have been waiting for someone to come out and say the obvious.  I hope some journalists read this article and take heed.
If you look back to the 70s with the Pentagon Papers and the Watergate stories, people waited for the next day’s paper, watched nightly news and talked to other people to get any bit of information they might have missed.
Now, it is just a rewrite of press releases, right-wing conservative, watered down, mis-information and sometimes disinformation and worst of all lies like the ones that those two supposed reporters (I’ve rejected their names) put in the NY Times to abet Bush’s criminal invasion of Iraq.
I used to subscribe to the Christian Science Monitor and the Boston Globe.  I canceled the Monitor when it tried to assist Bush in his Social Security privatization scheme by printing article after article with specious arguments and simply wrong numbers.
I kept the Globe because it is cheaper, and now, I only look into it to check the obituaries.  (A Journalism professor once told me that obituaries represent the best writing in the papers.)  The Globe is now a rag with much of its editorial page given over to right-wing neocons and true-believers like Jeff Jacoby, a refugee from the blue collar, right-wing rag, the Boston Herald.
Bob McChesney has an idea that he talked about on DemocvracyNow!. I hope that good Journalist are brought back to the fore and Americans are allowed to read real news written by real journalists.
It would be enlivening to experience once again the battle between truth and criminal deceit, lies and misrepresentation.

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By everynobody, March 27, 2009 at 6:50 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

as attention spans shortened and denial lengthened; the loss of integrity by all concerned led to the inevitable demise of a media no longer serving the truth.

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By Frank Goodman, Sr., March 27, 2009 at 6:47 am Link to this comment

I used to read the daily news in a local newspaper. I did that for at least 60 years. During the last ten years, I read only the Sunday paper because they had the comics, but no news. Today, I get the comics I want on the Internet, the news I need from BBC and Al Jazeera. I get my opinions from CNN cable station, TV. I get the picture from high definition TV wherever it is. I get the analysis of the news facts and graphics from my own mind and experience of 80 years of life.

I got a kick out of life in the last 8 decades. I got a jolt out of the wars of my lifetime. I got a laugh out of the comic strips. I got my philosophy from the distortions of religion, politics, and human relations. I got my morality from my own sense of right and wrong. I got my memories from every person I ever knew. I got my money from hard, effective work.

I get my retirement check from US Treasury. I get my sleep in fits and starts. I get pains in places I did not know I had. I get joy from everything I do. I get out of the house and buy my groceries. I get my religion from truth. I know everything worth knowing. Truth is God. I don’t need newspapers. Save a tree.

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By Tom Semioli, March 27, 2009 at 6:01 am Link to this comment
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Lest we forget, the public did not demand better journalism, hence the decline. If Americans really cared about real news, the top rated TV program would be CSPAN, not American Idol.

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By Yankee, March 27, 2009 at 5:37 am Link to this comment
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Spot on.

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By KISS, March 27, 2009 at 4:51 am Link to this comment

The closeness of newspaper reporters to the politicians was/is the downfall of the newspapers as we see today. The beloved New York Times, the printed history of today, also capitulated to crass contempt of their readers.
Alas, the I F Stones are no longer with us and in his place are the squawkers of Babel and mis-speak. In the thirties a German propagandist, Edward Louis Bernays,  proved that if you repeat a lie long enough it becomes a truth, hence, advertising was born. Apply that principle to today’s newspapers and you can see the awaking of the people to this fraudulent behavior.

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