More bad news for news.

No Gravatar

The hometown newspaper in the city I work in just announced it will cut home delivery to just three days per week. The reason, of course, is that it just isn’t making money off the print editions and must focus time and resources on its online product, along with mobile and tablet platforms.

It’s a sad state of affairs, when you consider the historic nature of the announcement: After nearly 200 years, this city no longer has a true daily newspaper.

Even sadder, in my estimation, is the fact that the leadership at the paper’s parent company continues to point fingers at the Internet for the demise of the printed product. And rather than figure out how to survive, they continue to hasten to rush toward extinction. To wit:

Readers have long clamored for a better news product. This particular newspaper cut its newsroom staff in half a few years back — from about 200 to about 100 — which, no matter how you slice it, means less news. I’ve never done a story count, but the decrease in quality over the past several years has been evident. I spent a dozen years competing against journalists from this newspaper, and always found them on top of the game. Recently, the paper is clearly scrambling just to put news on pages — and it’s often not compelling, important news, but news the paper believes will sell more papers.

Of course, the paper had to cut positions. It was bleeding money, both from wages and from a multi-million-dollar printing press installed to allow the paper the ability to print color on almost every page. The idea behind the press, of course, was to talk more advertisers into buying color ads. Color ads mean more expensive ads, which means more money for the paper. Didn’t work out that way.

So here we are.

The paper couldn’t afford the journalists, so it offered buyouts to get rid of as many as possible. The product suffered. Readers noticed. In response, the decision is to eliminate even more jobs, but concentrate on the electronic product.

Here’s the deal: The product is still crappy, whether it’s in print or online. Cutting costs by cutting journalists will never never never never never fix your dwindling readership.

Know what? I’m not sad.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, as journalists eulogize the industry. And of course the claim is without proper, trained journalists, the nation will fall apart. Sure, bloggers are telling the news too. But they aren’t real journalists, are they?

This is hogwash.

Our notion of professional journalism and journalism ethics is relatively new, considering the age of newspapers themselves. One of America’s first newspapers, the New England Courant, was published by Ben Franklin’s older brother, James, and was filled with fictitious accounts from fictitious correspondents — satire and opinion pieces. The year was 1721, and until that time, news sheets were filled with news from overseas.

But “journalism” in America became something much different. It became a way to criticize, to needle the establishment, to raise awareness and whip up discontent. It was meant to inform and entertain. It was political, biting, and sometimes dangerous. It was the life’s blood of each community.

That didn’t change much through the 1900s — even through the 1950s. Newspapers were largely a reflection of their editors. But they’d lost something, even by then: They’d already become an industry, and men had already become very, very rich, just by selling information.

Over the past hundred years, the problem has only increased, to the point where huge corporations have dominated the news industry for decades, and they made a lot of money.

But information wants to be free. And we want it to be free.

The news industry has dumbed the news down, just to sell newspapers, to catch audiences. It is rarely the bastion of truth and justice it once was, yet it masquerades behind the ideals of objectivity. There is no objectivity in the news; the object is to make money.

The truth is, the common man is taking the news back. In our local communities, local bloggers are telling the news — with their own spin. And that spin leads others to tell the news from their side. There are debates online. There is conversation. There is, truly, a freedom to print anything. A real freedom of a real press.

The news industry will eventually die — at least in terms of being the leading information source. But the news itself will live on. Wherever there is injustice, there will be a voice to speak out against it. Wherever there is need, there will be a pen. Because this new breed of journalists realizes what the old guard forgot long ago: It’s not about money. It’s about doing what’s right.

2 Responses to More bad news for news.

  • Josh says:

    This should have been done a long time ago. Look, I love my Sunday paper. I pour a cup of coffee, find a nice my-butt-shaped spot on a couch, over-stuffed chair, or some patio furniture, and spend about 2 hours with it, then I pour another cup of coffee and do that big-ass 5-puzzle Sudoku thingy.

    But other days? Meh. I have a few minutes to read in the morning, and sadly, that’s all the entire newspaper takes.

    I said three and a half years ago we should just quit worrying about newsprint and do newspapers primarily online because newsprint is expensive to order, to print, and to distribute.

    If, as an organization, you put your money into doing good journalism and distributing it any way you can (and not tomorrow morning, by the way, or worse, whenever there happens to be an open 20 inches of newshole), you’re going to survive at the very least, and perhaps even thrive.

    Frankly, as a former journalist (and really, there’s no such thing — just because I’m not working for a news organization doesn’t mean I haven’t retained the skills and the mindset), I’m going to get my news from whoever delivers a quality product in a convenient method. If I have to scroll past celebrity headlines and videos of your staff lip syncing to Call Me Maybe to find out why there are 400 people protesting a slab of concrete downtown, I’m probably looking elsewhere for my news.

    Dan, you continue to do great work. Thanks for making me think.

  • Daniel says:

    Thanks, Josh. You know…I don’t think newspapers ever had to die. I’ve said for years that if newspapers would start making the right choices, they’d survive.

    What are the right choices? For starters, they need to find their niche — LOCAL — and beat it to death. Next, they need to put personality back on their pages and stop hiding behind objectivity. They need to bring back the things that made newspapers indispensable in times gone by: society pages, obituaries and community calendars that really do serve the public.

    Sure, you can get those things online, but there’s a big difference. When I was in the news business, I always said the reason newspapers were more responsible than television and radio news is simple: We created a product our readers could physically throw at us. I still believe there is a psychological importance to that.

    I’ve stopped reading the local news, really. It is too watered down, with too little emphasis on results-based journalism. There is rarely any activism these days, and newspapers just aren’t advocating for the local reader anymore. It’s dollars. And that’s sad.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>