Saturday, December 27, 2008

Newspapers on the Decline

Sometimes I just want to scream. Recently Hendrik Hertzberg, a former Jimmy Carter speechwriter & "New Yorker" editor speaking in R.I. commented on how the newspaper industry is falling apart with increasing rapidity. N4N blogger Ian Dennis "asked Hertzberg, how will this affect small-d democracy?

"He responded by saying, 'Bloggers are essentially parasites on the newspaper industry.' While newspaper readership remains high through print and Web sites, Hertzberg noted how the movement of readers to the Internet has undermined the economic model of newspapers (since Web-based advertising is far less profitable)."

"'I suppose something will take its place,' Hertzberg said of newspapers, 'but I don't what it is yet.'"


Well, gee. How long have the Internet & bloggers been around? And we're to blame for the lack of readership & ad revenues? And we don't break news? Au contraire. Newspapers along with legislative changes allowing for big businesses to own multiple media outlets, along with the never-ending search for merges & higher profits along with lousy investments are primarily to blame for their decline. And I won't even begin on the lack of leisure time.

As big corporate media swallowed up radio & t.v. stations, networks, newspapers, & magazines poor business decisions were made. First to go were news departments with staff reporters & researchers. Uhhh, like that's kind of why we used them. Investigational journalism (aka, muckrackers of the "fourth estate") were gone with the wind. Reporters were often straight out of school to keep costs down. Depth, knowledge, and experience were given short-shrift.


Instead we've been subjected to press notices, forums, & entertainment often paraded as "news." Feel-good articles along with high-profile titillation, features, and notices occupy much of what used to be reserved for news. Opinion has given way to all-too few national commenters and the same-old, same-old. Staying "in-the-middle" pretends to be objective & non-partisan but all too often is just the opposite and confusing. Truth isn't always somewhere in the middle.


I have a love-hate relationship with our local paper-of-record- "The Newport Daily News," now that Projo has basically given up on our area. One example is a recent editorial bemoaning the " proposal "that would reduce the state sales tax from 7 percent to 5 percent....This is not genuine tax relief or reform. Instead of playing shell games with our hard-earned money, the state would be better served by taking a cue from the businesses in Rhode Island that are trying to survive by refashioning themselves to be more efficient, more innovative, leaner-and-meaner operations. It is said that in every crisis, there is opportunity. We just hope Rhode Island doesn’t blow this one."


Ahhh, a trifle loose with the facts here. Our state sales tax while it is high at 7% is far more generous in its exemptions than any other state- seventy-nine to be exact. Excluded are clothing & shoes, boats, art, & motion picture purchases, aircraft, and- (ta-dah) newspapers. These are supposed to generate economic benefits to the state and they may well do that, but who knows? Now, I don't like sales' tax either (too regressive). But while the NDN has also bemoaned various cuts made by the lege & guv, it doesn't actually share with us any ideas for increasing revenues.


We can solve our current financial crisis by becoming "leaner and meaner." Yeah, there's the ticket. Wow, whoever would have thought of that idea? Ummm, let's see... how about 6 yrs. ago when Gov. Carcieri promised us "The Big Audit" which would "...go expense by expense through the budget until he [Carcieri] has uncovered every penny of waste and unnecessary expense. He will prepare accurate future estimates for these expenses and programs, so that a true multi year cost picture can be generated. Nobody will leave until as much waste as possible has been squeezed out of each budget."


I guess that's why the newspaper endorsed him for a second term- he just hadn't finished with all that squeezing yet. Thanks for this thoughtful, provocative solution. Government is the problem after all. Hello, haven't you actually been reading anything? Ah, simplistic answers to complex problems. Sometimes bad news is just that- bad news and the cheerful opportunity blah-blah is just so much pablum. I may not be the sharpest pencil in the box, but solving a growing $300 mil deficit with a "straighten up & fly right" solution seems just a bit over-simplified to me.

Ah, and I just can't resist. How about those political endorsements that you make every two years? How are all those working out for you (including Carcieri)? Do you ever wonder why? "...Most members of our editorial board (never mind our reporting staff) couldn’t tell you with 100 percent accuracy who we endorsed in the last election [probably because they would have to pay to access your reports]. While we are totally immersed in the process in the weeks leading up to the election, once it happens, we move on. We’re too busy on a day-to-day basis to be coordinating story placement accordingly. And believe me, we’ve rued the day we made some endorsements. Looking back, we may not always be right, but just like voters, we make the best decisions we can at the time." (NDN )


You know, if I kept making the same mistakes andnever reviewed why, I might have a tad trouble keeping a job, never mind just plain living. Perhaps the NDN is actually part of the problem? If so, then trying to figure out "why" & changing could be a positive action. You endorsed most of the Middletown Council & less than two weeks later hinted at "recall." Gee, you've already forgotten who you endorsed and why? That doesn't actually inspire much confidence on the readers' part. The same thing when you bemoan the cost of government but offer the same old, same old tired phrases as solutions. Is it surprising then that alternative news sources are turned to? And yes, I have noticed recently that Projo & NDN actually use them now AND give credit. Guess we're not always "parasites" after all. Change is hard.

Perhaps it's time to re-think newspapers & have them take the form of non-profits much like public television. Maybe, just maybe, newspapers are something that we have to support to keep our democracy going. A thought... You see, unlike Pres. Bush, I know that an informed electorate requires a free press- whatever form that may take.
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