Saturday, February 02, 2008

What is Really Wrong with Newspapers

Boing Boing and Making Light linked to this good diagnosis. It has some suggestions on how they can fix the problems.
Mary McCarthy said famously of Lillian Hellman: “Every word she writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the’.”

It’s tempting to say the same about the many diagnoses of what ails the newspaper world. We hear endlessly that the troubles are a result of the Internet, new technology, “people don’t read anymore,” and, my favorite, “people don’t have as much time as they used to.” As if there was once a 36-hour day, or people who once worked 12-hour shifts while raising large families had this abundance of time....

Now the tailspin continues, and the damage to our democracy is hard to overstate. It's no coincidence that the United States stumbled into Iraq and is paralyzed before serious challenges at home and abroad at precisely the moment when real journalism is besieged.
My Dad and my brother also talked briefly about this the other day. For some reason we seem to have less time for that particular large daily info dump.

My Dad is retired and still subscribes to the Houston Chronicle. He has the time. He also reads the Pasadena Citizen and free copies of the Deer Park papers.

My brother very rarely reads a paper and has a few blogs he reads almost daily. That reading includes my two main blogs and Boing Boing. He does more Internet surfing but I don't know the sites. He reads more magazines than I do - ones that focus on particular interests.

I pick the Houston Chronicle up at most three times a month in the physical world and read some articles or blogs in the online form several times a week. I read more Chron headlines in several sections a couple times a week on My Yahoo as RSS feeds. There are many more feeds from papers and blogs on My Yahoo page. ( I still don't like how I have the two pages arranged. Theoretically, I should open every day to that My Yahoo page but often skip to somewhere else through other means of starting up my browsing.) Most of last year I read The New York Times, except the sports page, several times a week through a foundation grant that provided free copies to Lee College. I was one of less than ten or fifteen people that I think picked up the free paper! I several times a week read a few articles or columnists from The NYT and the Washington Post. There is a huge number of Internet articles or blogs I read through links or bookmarks or favorites or My Yahoo weekly but I don't read the entire sites. Maybe monthly now I read most of an issue of the Houston Press, for the muck-raking, which mainstream media now generally doesn't do well and isn't that interested in.

Because my reading includes foreign sites and alternative non-corporate media sites, I am much better informed that 99% of the people in the United States. Within several weeks I started noticing the lies the American media were uncritically accepting before Bush/Cheney's Iraq War. That started my blogging. Our American media was failing us and online voices needed to be heard. At that time, even more than now, I hoped to provide a daily digest of real news for liberals, progressives, libertarians, greens, and anti-authoritarians. It was only later I expanded to a news source linker for general Democrats as the best option to stop what seemed the source of most of the American lies - Republicans and their supporters.

Lately, I am not compelled to link to every good story I read because there are many more online new sources for what is generally referred to as the Left Point of View. Some of the blinders also seemed to fall from the So-Called-Liberal-Media eyes. I should write more my own POV longer articles but find I am usually inclined to skip the details and just link to the source after only a few words, frequently snarky. I have tried to up my percentage of local and Texas posts. I am adapting.

I am not sure how the real world newspapers will adapt to the future. They provide much of the original content on the net, even if their editing and vetting is no where near as good as they think it is. Their biggest worry has to be the revenue stream. One "solution" is that I think the profitability of newspapers, like most of American business, will never again approach that of the 70's to 90's. I would tell them to Get Used To It and figure out ways their unique voices survive and get noticed in a world where everyone has access to their feeds.

1 comment:

rjnagle said...

IBID on everything you say.

A few additions.

first, my recent ruminations on blogging vs. journalists

Houston Chronicle has done an adequate job of combining the newspaper and blog function. If only they would pay people. Chuck Kuffner was recently acknowledged as a top blogger by Texas Monthly. Yet he still is blogging for free (as you are I presume).

Bloggers are not hoodwinked easily. The majority of reputable bloggers saw through the Iraqi thing. (The blowhards and partisans were a different story).

The one problem: do we need to be in front of the computer screen all this time? I miss the days where we could get informed by reading on the sofa or the bed. I do limited reading on my ebook reader, but not so much for politics.

Kindle's prices for newspaper subscriptions isn't reasonable now, but that could change. The thing is for print editions people read a lot of articles they would never read in online editions. Whenever I read a print NYT, I am subscribed by how many articles I read which I never would have noticed on their website.

(The money quote from that rogue columnist piece:

Consolidation of newspapers into large, publicly held companies. This removed newspapers from their communities and killed a sense of holding a public trust. And it left them at the mercy of Wall Street. Newspaper executives promised returns that are nearly impossible for any (legal) entity to sustain year after year. Everything came to depend on delivering these short-term “growth” numbers to the Street. Among the biggest losers was the ability to invest in future technologies and the ability to shift to meet changing consumer habits. Those wouldn’t deliver instant double-digit margins. Thus, newspaper companies failed to start, or failing that, buy, a Yahoo or Craig’s List.

Wow, that hits the nail on the head.