Archive for Monday, August 31, 2009

Newspapers are too important to fail

August 31, 2009


The newspaper has been a consistent ally of democracy in the United States for generations, often battling oppression.

It has made a documented difference by exposing wrongs in and threats to local, state, and federal government, by serving as a courageous watchdog over growing crime and corruption in the country and by being alert to the sometimes precarious international front.

On the editorial page, the newspaper has questioned the need for wars and the resulting loss of life and it has been attentive to the readers’ need to know more, much more, about the daily news, business, entertainment and sports, and how they impact them and their families.

It was an early champion of civil rights.

It has devoted countless pages to the issues of health care, an emotionally charged matter that requires substantive understanding and constructive change.

As we know, America is in love with sports, and the newspaper devotes a considerable amount of its space to the field of action, giving focus to and insight on the good and bad aspects of the games and the people associated with them.

The newspaper, with the support of the Associated Press, the world’s largest news-gathering organization, gives effective voice and information to the citizenry; it has immediate access to newsmakers around the globe.

The list could go on and on.

Still the daily newspaper and national news magazines face a stiff challenge if they are to continue to inform the nation adequately and to serve as the bastion of the written word. The written word matters, especially in a large and complex world such as ours. Knowledge matters.

In virtually every town and city, the newspaper has struck upon hard times and is in financial trouble, brought on by a seriously depressed economy and subsequent unemployment and new and aggressive competition from other forms of news and entertainment like the Internet and round-the-clock cable television.

Despite the doom and gloom, roughly the same number of people read newspapers today as before, but an alarming number of young people are bypassing newspapers for a quick fix on the news, however superficial. They often seek out news summaries on the Internet or cable news or talk radio. At times, their superficiality runs deep.

Many do not see the need for thoughtful journalism and for detailed insight, the staples of a keen mind and a key to the continuance of democracy. They seem preoccupied with other things and display a short attention span.

Newspapers must reach out to the younger generation, finding creative ways to illustrate the importance of being an informed citizen; the younger generation needs to understand that with the benefits of a democracy come inescapable obligations.

One must remember that in every community the newspaper is the largest news-gathering organization, and it is central to community life.

Unfortunately, some of America’s largest newspapers have been forced to shut down, papers like the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, while others are producing single-digit profits or none at all.

Fewer and fewer newspapers each year are producing profits that compare favorably with a variety of high-profile businesses.

Too many people believe the problems with newspapers came with the advent of the Internet. Not so. They started with unprecedented success. In the 1960s and 1970s, when many afternoon newspapers in large cities went out of business, the surviving newspaper became a monopoly and a big money maker.

Most large newspapers created chains or joined them and expanded in many directions, clearly too many and too fast. The rapid change and subsequent profitability caught the eye of Wall Street and eager investors.

Then came an era of cheap credit when major papers began to make multiple billion-dollar transactions. Bigger is better, newspaper executives thought, and reasoned that synergies would drive down costs and drive up revenue. The Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, McClatchy, and Lee Enterprises were among those who got caught up in the madness.

All the while newspapers dropped in classified advertising, especially in key areas like real estate, automotive, and help wanted ads. Ad revenue fell 23 percent in 2008 alone. Newspapers lost advertisers and readers to an aggressive Internet.

Newspapers cannot give away the news they gather when advertising revenues are dangerously low. Someone has to shoulder the costs by finding new ways to monetize the content newspapers gather.

Too many good journalists have been sacrificed to balance the books, and it will take years for some newspapers to rebuild and again offer the quality that was once apparent. Even the New York Times Company has bonds that are rated as ”junk.”

The newspaper, a timeless guardian of the written word, is simply too important to fail, but it must move with dispatch to protect its aging reader base, bring back those who dropped subscriptions, and recruit the young in significant numbers.

Educators agree there is no substitute for the ability to read and write well among our young, and a great many of the teachers see the newspaper as an essential in the learning process.


N_Trenched 8 years, 9 months ago

Boris is exactly right. Many are failing due to reader distrust. I expect many to fail in the coming years.

Scott Drummond 8 years, 9 months ago

"What is the solution? Obama funneling tax payer dollars to the news papers?"

Likely not. The solution is a more educated populace who would seek information and insight. That, unfortunately, runs counter to the right wing/corporatists agenda.

Ultimately, the decline of newspapers are simply the canary in the mine of democracy.

BrianR 8 years, 9 months ago

No, they're not.

Hay day? It's great that you made a point then proved it.

BrianR 8 years, 9 months ago

And "reader distrust" is a wingnut term for Liberal?

If someone can read the news on Teh Internets, why should they buy a print paper? In turn, why should advertisers support them?

parlet 8 years, 9 months ago

Fail? Why not evolve? Oh, wait... Never mind.

think_about_it 8 years, 9 months ago

" help stay in the black" There goes your racist side again Tom. Next you'll be asking for the "Great White Hope" to save the papers.

Flap Doodle 8 years, 9 months ago

The first two paragraphs sound like they came out of a 1950s journalism text.

volunteer 8 years, 9 months ago

Many newspapers are failing due to their own poor business and customer service decisions.

Didn't the Kansas City Falling Star brag about their 90 million dollar "press pavilion" shortly before hundreds of layoffs started?

In Topeka, some years ago a cashier/clerk embezzled tens of thousands from the daily newspaper before it was even noticed. And more recently the paper has had trouble keeping its news racks supplied consistently.

Newspapers have challenges with the internet and 24 hour news channels on TV, but they also should examine their own customer service and business practices.

Sigmund 8 years, 9 months ago

Enough is enough. We are not here to subsidize your clueless business plans or reward your failures.

Flap Doodle 8 years, 9 months ago

If you wonder why public confidence in newspapers is declining, google "Jayson Blair".

notajayhawk 8 years, 9 months ago

"... an alarming number of young people are bypassing newspapers for a quick fix on the news, however superficial. They often seek out news summaries on the Internet or cable news or talk radio. At times, their superficiality runs deep.

"Many do not see the need for thoughtful journalism and for detailed insight, the staples of a keen mind and a key to the continuance of democracy."

You mean, they just want the facts and don't need your insight, analysis, or opinion? They actually have the audacity to want to make up their own minds without being told what they should think about what's going on?

Oh, the horror, the horror...

Flap Doodle 8 years, 8 months ago

"Are you suggesting that the self-proclaimed “new media” is beyond reproach?" No, where would you come up with something like that? I don't recall declaring anyone as being beyond reproach. Do you think the case of Jayson Blair hasn't hurt the image of the NYT? Have fun storming the castle...

Hudson Luce 8 years, 8 months ago

The article refers to a historical past, not the last 30 years. If you look at a copy of the Lawrence Journal World or Kansas City Star from 40 or 50 years ago, the level and quality of the reportage and analysis in a daily newspaper is simply stunning, written by well-informed, well-educated people for a well-informed, well-educated audience. Today's paper is oriented towards an audience with an electronic media-shortened attention span. Thirty seconds on TV is an eternity; the longest "tweet" on Twitter is 160 characters long. You can't communicate complex news stories and in-depth analysis with limitations like those, which is why public debate is so shallow, and why demagogues with screaming mobs can take over. It's the result of decades of dumbed-down education and a severe lack of quality in newspaper reportage and analysis. In order for newspapers to survive, they have to be worth the money they're asking for... and they have to have the audience which can receive and appreciate the message.

Paul R Getto 8 years, 8 months ago

News changed to entertainment in much of the industry 20-30 years ago. We are paying the price, but there is no turning back. Many newspapers will survive on line and will charge for access. The Journal World, like many papers, does little or no investigative reporting (too expensive and it might make advertisers mad.) Most papers are local bulletin boards and stuff off the 'wires.' The business model will change and the papers who either provide the best 'entertainment' or who actually find news and report it should be OK. The rest will quietly go away.

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