Are Journalists Irrelevant or Making Themselves Irrelevant? (Dec. 28, 2009)*

. . .

“Newspapers really are in a death spiral.  From my review of the editorial stances and endorsements of the newspapers across the country, however, half of them could fold and probably leave us better off.  The Great Divide between the two Americas rages in the country and in the editorial rooms.  The way the market is heading, half of the undesirable newspapers will fold, yet half of the ones contributing to the dialogue also will fold.  The great loss is the lost possibility that cannot be regained once a newspaper no longer folds paper and instead simply folds.”

“Look at the product.  Too many of the columns in newspapers seem to be hissy fits among a clique of columnists.  One columnist says one thing and then another columnist inserts ‘not’ at some points and elsewhere deletes the ‘nots.’  The length and style of the columns are formulaic and could be recycled and reprinted every few months.  The columnists could be laid off and computer generated columns substituted for their daily show.”

“And yet that is the best case scenario.  Other papers promise to deliver only one side of an issue and deliver on their promise.  We still return to the need in a Republic for a free and robust press.  The First Amendment removes most government impediments, yet the contemporary impediment is economic.  Why pay today when information is free or appears to be free?”

“The subscribers and advertisers each pitched in to pay and now both are abandoning ship because the ship is sinking.  My friends don’t read papers.  The advertisers don’t reach them.”

“There really were no free newspapers or sources of information, yet TV was free from a direct and immediate charge.  The advertisers, not the viewers, sponsored the show or paid the freight initially.  The auto, food, insurance and pharmaceutical companies paid for the ads up front.  Then HBO asked the public to pay to view; the public paid.  ABC provided sports for free and then ESPN asked the public to pay to view; the public paid.  Now the public willingly pays for some TV.  That is what newspapers must do.  The Internet is the hybrid ‘television newspaper.’  Induce the public to pay.”

“For what?  The major news networks transmit bogus fluff.”

“What about the MacNeil/Lehrer program?”

“PBS?  Only if I can record it or view it on line.  The news on public television is credible but kind of stodgy.  Those of us who will soon run what is left are getting our news and opinions from a former soccer player who realizes that a person must entertain to inform.  He both entertains and informs and appears to be speaking truth to an audience raised on lies.  That is a workable business model.  Provide a quality product and people might pay.  What could be more obvious.”

“HBO and ESPN provide divertissements not news.  Something unsexy like investigative journalism is expensive and does not pay.  The hard task is not merely reporting on findings but finding the findings.  That will be the big loss every time a paper folds.  We as a society are losing the slim possibility that someone in power will be held accountable for his or her actions and inactions.”

. . .

(* This title was changed in February, 2010 because the prior title was too understated.)

Bumper sticker of the week:

Starting with Monday’s edition, Section D on “Jobs” is now titled “Job”, Section F on “Classifieds” is now titled “Foreclosure Notices”, and the “Sports” are found in Section B and the new expanded section C.

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