Monday, March 23, 2009

I want to be the first to say it: Newspapers are killing themselves

I just read The Ann Arbor News is closing its doors in July. They will join the Rocky Mountain News, The Seattle Inteligencier, and numerous other daily newspapers that will close their doors and blame it, in part, on the Internet.

I want to be the first to say Newspapers, especially journalists and editorial page editors, have done this to themselves. Under their watch the federal government has grown progressively bigger without their objection. In fact, the federal government's growth has been applauded and encouraged by many journalists whose liberal bias supports the notion that government can and should do more, and the more the government provides the better.

We're quickly arriving at a point where our federal government does so much and our state and local government relatively little, that most of the news fit to print comes out of a single location: Washington DC. Exactly how many newspapers and TV news shows does it take to cover a single city in America?

In the Detroit area there's only one locally-produced news program in the morning on Fox affiliate, WJBK. NBC, ABC, and CBS all produce their morning shows out of NY (one city) covering their favorite two topics, Hollywood and Washington DC. On those local channels the only local content is weather and traffic, and a brief three minute news interruption.

The blogosphere is hardly to blame. Most bloggers are covering the same national stories everyone else covers coming from the same locations--Hollywood and DC. Journalists like to follow the money trail, and since most the money is in those two locations it makes sense there's less interesting news everywhere else.

In a subsequent article I'll see if I can substantiate my hypothesis by looking at the growth in federal budgets, the growth in programs, and the decline in newspaper readership.

This quick article is just so I can go on record as having thought of this first. Actually, I thought of it a few days ago, but posted some comments on other blogs today and was finally inspired by the news story above to post here.

Stay tuned.


  1. I was just wondering - have you been living under a rock? The morning shows have been the same for years and years - at least as long as I have been alive and at last count that was 30 something or other. Most of those stations carry local news at a time when people are home and have more time to watch, in fact some of those channels have a few different newscasts based on local stories - news at 5, 6 and even 7 in some cases and of course lets not forgte 10 and 11. What does the TV media have to do with newspapers anyway? I also don't know what papers you are reading - there are several papers out there that focus on the local community and government. However, most people are to smart to pay for a paper when they can get the news they want for free on-line, so yes - the internet in large part is killing the paper.
    Oh-yeah - and just because you post something on your insignificant little blog doesn't mean you thought of it first, it just means your an egotist who thinks they know it all.

  2. Thanks, Michelle. I promised to do more research and I will.

    I remember when before leaving for work (or maybe school?) there was more than one locally-produced morning news program. Or at least there was more than one that wasn't preempted by a national show until after 8 or 9AM.

    I also remember the local CBS affiliate having their own local news program, as did UPN on channel 50. Now I think they've combined, so at least one of them was eliminated.

    It's possible locally-produced television news is still profitable. I know that when I get home after work there's newscasts for at least as many hours as the Bugs Bunny and Road Runner Show used to have Saturday mornings (which was at least two hours at one point).

    For the time being, at least in this little corner of the blogosphere, I'll stick with what I wrote, that it is a hypothesis that needs some research.

    If I can't back it up with data I'll borrow a page from Global Warming Alarmists and assert that both the loss or increase of local newspapers proves the theory.

    Regarding your question on which papers I'm reading, it would be way more fun to tell which I'm no longer reading because they're not published anymore. Starting in July I'll no longer be reading the Ann Arbor News.

    You're right that I shouldn't be so arrogant as to claim to be the first to think of anything. Like being the first to think it ironic you'd comment on an article you claim in the same comment to be an insignificant little blog.

  3. I'm not really sure where you're going with this argument. You began by saying "newspapers are killing themselves" but then your only example refers to television coverage.

    Is your objection to mainstream media in general, or do you have a specific bone to pick with newspapers?

    And if so, on a separate, less related note, I'd challenge you to browse through some blogs and try to find one that is doing any original reporting of its own, especially in regards to "big government." I think you'll find that most blog content is generated in reaction to reading either local, state or national news coverage. And I'd be willing to bet the articles bloggers are reading come from newspaper websites.

    If this is the case, how can you say newspapers are not doing their job holding the government accountable?

    I'd sooner believe that any decrease in investigative content is the result of decreased SUBSCRIPTIONS and ADVERTISING, making it harder for journalists and editors to do their jobs, largely due to the terrible economy.

    And for the record, newspaper readership is higher than it's ever been... people are just reading online now instead of paying for subscriptions.

    Just some thoughts for you to chew on as you do your research. I'll check back at your blog later to see what you came up with.

    Thanks for posting.

  4. I'd use care in pushing this angle too far when it comes to TV -- it sounds very much like the "we need to reinvigorate local programming" argument used by supporters of the Fairness Doctrine.

  5. All I can say is that after the 'strike' at the papers the home deliveries on my street dropped dramatically and have not returned to pre strike levels.

  6. The TV comparison was intended to be incidental, but I did ramble on too much about it. For the purposes of gathering data my focus will be on newspapers, circulation, etc.

    Regarding the strike, I'm fairly certain both baseball and hockey are struggling to return to pre-strike attendence, but I have no evidence, anicdotal or empiricle, regarding our local newspaper strike.

  7. "This quick article is just so I can go on record as having thought of this first."

    What an arrogant ass! If you bothered to look beyond your delusions you might be aware that this "first" has been old news for years.

  8. ".. you might be aware that this "first" has been old news for years."

    I haven't had the opportunity to analyze the numbers yet, but if it's old news then you can reference an article predating mine crediting the growth of our federal government to local papers' demise?

  9. The newspaper has been declining for years. Radio, television, the 24-hour news cycle created by cable news, and now the internet have each taken their bite out of the newspapers' market. They have online editions, but there is no revenue structure online equivalent to the printed ad that can compensate for what they are losing, at least not yet.

    I hope they do find some kind of revenue structure that works, as "printed news", be it on a page or screen, is important. It is generally deeper than the sound-byte based news we get on television or the radio. But newspapers themselves are dinosaurs, and are not the future. Chopping down countless trees to create a product that is obsolete in 1-7 days is not sustainable in the new millennium.

    As for the premise of centralization of power being a catalyst for the fall of regional newspapers, I don't think there's a strong argument for it. One might get closer blaming the corporate capitalists who have consolidated control of media outlets to the point where 5 companies control 90+% of the news we ingest. The interest of General Electric in what is happening in your local neighborhood isn't likely to be real strong compared to when that media outlet was owned by someone who lived in your community.

  10. Your point about media ownership is an interesting one, and may be more causal then liberalization of the media. When other companies get larger they look for economies in producing their market, and local news gathering, compared to national, isn't nearly as economical.

    The news in Ferndale just isn't that interesting to folks in South Carolina, and so it has limited value to a conglomerate with newspapers both places. Same goes for local advertisers.

    Good to hear from you, Jason. Thank you for sharing your perspective.