Friday, March 13, 2009

Disappearing Daily Newspapers

By Alan Caruba

As someone who began his career in journalism, working for weeklies, moving on to a daily, and later seeing my by-line on occasion in The New York Times, I have a nostalgic fondness for newsprint. I actually start my day reading my local daily, albeit mostly checking the obituary pages—it’s an age thing—and having a freshly brewed cup of coffee.

Then, in order to really know what is going on in the nation and the world, I surf the Net for an hour, visiting various news and opinion websites (some of which post my writings). It is virtually impossible to get a sense of reality from newspapers that continue to tell you that the Earth is in a midst of a perilous global warming that will require shutting down all the coal-fired plants in the nation.

Since new technology drives out old technology, accounting for why two percent of the population now feeds all the rest of us, it should come as no surprise that great city newspapers are dying for loss of classified and other advertising. The other reason is that most newswire and daily news reporting simply cannot be trusted any more.

Historically, American newspapers were often notorious for having their own agenda, but they were just as often the only game in town if you wanted the news. Some cities supported four, five or more newspapers depending on your own bias. The notion of the “objective” reporter was always suspect, but my generation of reporters did not feel that their job description included agreeing with their publisher on all issues.

The most egregious example is the alleged “environmental” reporting in The New York Times which has never reflected the actual science of global warming and other Green obsessions. For some twenty years or more, it has had a succession of reporters, all of whom were astonishingly indifferent to science or even the truth.

The latest is Andrew Revkin who was unable to ignore the fact that 700 or so of the world’s leading climatologists, meteorologists, physicists, economists, and others were meeting in New York this passed week to debunk global warming. His report on the event was an insult to those participating and attending.

This is how Revkin described The Heartland Institute’s second annual International Conference on Climate Change: “More than 600 self-professed climate skeptics are meeting in a Times Square hotel this week to challenge what has become a broad scientific and political consensus: that without big changes in energy choices, humans will dangerously heat up the planet.”

If you were hoping for any accurate reporting in that sentence or the rest of his article, you are still waiting for it. I was there. One of the items I brought home was a thick book filled with the names of 31,478 American scientists who signed a global warming petition, agreeing that “There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gases is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, will cause catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the Earth’s climate.” There is no “broad scientific and political consensus.”

As Jim Peden, an atmospheric physicist, noted in an email to fellow skeptics, “I think we’re all being a bit too hard on Revkin. He is, after all, only doing his job…to support and defend the liberal editorial policies of his employers. In case you haven’t noticed, the New York Times, once arguably one of the premier news sources on the planet, is slowly dying. It hasn’t had a genuinely honest journalist on its staff in more than two decades, and anyone who attempts to put the genie back in the bottle at this late stage of the game would likely find himself out of a job.”

Meanwhile, the United Press International devoted four thin paragraphs to the conference citing “signs of internal disputes and weakening support.” Nothing could have been further from the truth. Little wonder Rush Limbaugh refers to them as “the drive-by media.”

This is, I believe, an increasing component of the reason U.S. dailies such as Denver’s Rocky Mountain News, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and a host of cities are going to be down to having one or no daily newspaper. The news they have been delivering is not reliably true or even an effort to reflect a balanced presentation of conflicting versions of events and issues.

It must be said that publishing a newspaper is a tremendously labor-intensive undertaking requiring a phalanx of reporters and editors backed up by an advertising department, a circulation department, the men who actually print it, and those who then deliver it. There is almost no way to trim such people from the payroll without doing grave injury to the process and the product.

That is particularly evident when it comes to local reporting, the heart and soul of a newspaper. Somebody must attend the many meetings of the city council, the transportation and education boards, ad infinitum. Some newspapers will survive by becoming solely their website.

It is entirely likely that, in the future, someone will attend and will then post their reports on Internet sites specific to the topic of interest. You will bookmark a variety of such local sites to keep up to date. In the meantime, there are already countless sites that are devoted to what’s going on in hometowns everywhere.

Let me tell you a story. Once, very long ago, I was auditioning for a job with the daily newspaper serving a vast swath of my home State. The editor asked me to write a series on the local chapters of the Humane Society and American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. What I unearthed was a great deal of hypocrisy and degrees of corrupt behavior. When I turned in the assignment, the editor said to me, “I don’t think you understand. I wanted something along the lines of Jane and her pet duck, not a wholesale exposure of these people. Pet owners would be enraged.”

Well, yes, that was the point. Suffice it to say that I decided to take up public relations where, at least, I could earn a lot more than a lowly reporter. I also lost a large degree of respect for what passed for journalism then and, over the years, now.

So, yes, local dailies, some with illustrious histories, are shutting down. They will be missed, but they will be replaced by some very lively, engaged, and hopefully accurate Internet reporting that has long since been missing from what passes for daily newspapers these days.


Necromancer said...

Isn't there an old proverb that goes something like this." Believe only half of what you see and none of what you hear"? Or maybe something similar. Newspapers and the old media are dinosaurs.I'll let you Alan add anything else as it is your blog.

Alan Caruba said...

Old editors used to tell rooky reporters, "If your Mother says she loves you, check it out."

In a world awash in information, it behooves us all to be skeptics.

Rich Kozlovich said...

Having started my working life in the advertising department of a major metropolitan newspaper I can attest to how much work goes into publishing a daily newspaper, especially when putting out the Sunday edition.

I can remember (I was 19 at the time) discussing the merits of the local paper versus the NYT with a prominent banker, his wife and his friends and adamatly proclaiming that our paper was every bit as good because we published what was important to our community.

I can still remember the scoffing and guffaws. Even my best friend (now for 45 years) chuckled and shook his head….. and he worked with me. As It turns out....I was right after all.

Having said all of that, I will come to the point. The internet made the people aware that you really “can't believe anything you read in the newspapers”. Once that happened...they have abandoned the papers wholesale.

The print media (as well as the electronic news media) then dropped any pretense of honesty, integrity and fair reporting. The more more readers they lost, the more they exposed themselves, and the more readers they lost. That will not change. It will grow! The public will not be fooled again.

I like eating breakfast out and that is where I get the paper. I quickly scan it to see if there is anything in there worth noting so that I can look it up on line later to find out what is the real story.

Then I go to the sports page where the stories are more reliable, and even then they deliberately leave out important information. Of course it really doesn't matter how reliable those stories are anyway. It's just sports. Unless of course they are talking about the Browns and then it becomes almost sacrosanct. You have to keep your perspective after all you know.

Then I go to the part of the paper that I originally bought the paper for. The crossword puzzle! And it isn’t even fair.

libertyforusa said...

As to that "other reason" permit me to quote from a great site
called in an article entitled Why Socialism Failed

"By rewarding success and penalizing failure, the profit system provides a strong disciplinary mechanism which continually redirects resources away from weak, failing, and inefficient firms toward those firms which are the most efficient and successful at serving the public. A competitive profit system ensures a constant reoptimization of resources and moves the economy toward greater levels of efficiency. Unsuccessful firms cannot escape the strong discipline of the marketplace under a profit/loss system. Competition forces companies to serve the public interest or suffer the consequences."

This may not be the main reason behind the demise, but the refusal of honesty, in favor of ideology, has me cheering the destruction of a tool of deceit. If they had been honest, I would be mourning this same circumstance.

Clive Graham Smale said...

I have not read a print newspaper in years. The fact is that the fast pace of information, today, leaves the newspaper for dead. Certainly one needs to belong to a belief system - as many people do belong - when one subscribes to a particular newspaper.
Because of narrowing margins many once famous papers are but shadows of their former image and circulation numbers.
Why? Well,a more informed public is seeing throught the subterfuge of owners and editors who demand particular topic be biased in one way or another to the exclusion of a balanced opposite view.
When you buy a newspaper you are buying skewed views.
The way the news is reported, and by who, tells another story.
Reporters have there own views and this comes across in their reportage. They are, perhaps, employed because their outlook concurs with management.
Additionally, there is a time constraint. Copy has to be presented to meet a deadline - just how little time is there to do serious research into a topic to do it justice (without bias if such were possible)? It's little wonder that the modern journalist is an expert on the Agency reportage 'cut-and-paste' methodology to get the elements of a story together for the deadline. Just get those pages filled - a real example of 'never mind the quality, feel the width' ( what a lovely,over-arching expression that is)and there is so much of it. How do I know if I don't read print? Unfortunately, the garbage also ends up in the on-line version, too.
It seems there are lots of out-of-work journalist and those in work also have bills and a mortgages to pay; toeing the line is mandatory if you want to eat and have a roof.
Those who do say it as it is tend to be free-lance, for example Pilger and Booker, who really do their homework and have a good and valid story to tell - as well as a good reputation to maintain.
Technology is moving ahead to meet people's expectations.
The average newspaper cannot hope to meet those expectations of a more precise and specialised interest public who demand a truth that has, unfortunately, escaped the print papers.
People have become wise to their bias and hence are leaving their cloud nine for more earthly, verifiable truths on the Internet.
The papers have only themselves to blame and they will never again achieve the zenith of past glory.