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June 30, 2008

OUCH: In 'survival mode,' newspapers slashing jobs. "The increasingly rapid and broad decline in the newspaper business in recent months has surprised even the most pessimistic financial analysts, many of whom say it's too hard to tell how far the slump will go."

No wonder they've been telling us we're in the midst of a second Great Depression. For them, it's been true.

UPDATE: Reader Jerry Carroll emails:

Glenn: I'm enjoying your glee over the death of newspapers. But what will replace them when they're gone? Think anybody is going to leave the comfort of their chair once a week to trudge to the city council and report on a blog what happened so the rest of us know? I see the time coming when there won't be anyone watching local government, and what we know will only be what it wants us to know.

It's not "glee." And, in fact -- as I've said repeatedly -- I think the reason that newspapers are tubing is that they're replaced the kind of hard-news reporting described above with editorializing and "attitude," often in support of political positions that many people don't agree with. I'd much rather see them flourish while doing a good job, but they've been cutting budgets for actual reporting for decades. Read Andy Krieg's Spiked: How Chain Management Corrupted America's Oldest Newspaper, to see how this trend was already underway twenty years ago. If you turn out a product whose quality is steadily declining, while simultaneously treating a substantial part of your customer base as somewhere between evil and idiotic, don't be surprised if your business gets worse. I've said for years that hard-news reporting is the killer app for Big Media, but they just don't want to do it. They want to tell people what to think, instead of telling them what's happening.

MORE: Reader Tom Fojtik emails: "In response to the guy expressing concerns about what replaces newspapers for those who want to know what is going on in city hall. We already have it and it's called 'cable access tv.' I can watch myself at the bi-weekly Plan Commission four times a week if I want. And sometimes it's even mildly entertaining."

STILL MORE: On Jerry Carroll's "glee" comment, a reader emails:

I don't know how he/she came to such a conclusion about your attitude. I have felt it a bit too much sympathy. Your response is without a doubt, the bottom line. And concerning Jerry's assessment of readers of the paper, we may be better off without them if that's the extent of their desire to be informed. What can they tell city council but how the school needs more tax dollars for sex ed and global warming? For many of us its more of a "comfort" getting a cup of coffee, clicking on certain favorites and staying above the imposition of distortion and agenda.

And reader Arthur Barie writes: "One quick google search found a blog that does excellent work covering politics here in my county. Don't be surprised if most counties have someone who takes this stuff seriously." And it's not as if local media do such a bang-up job covering local politics anyway.

MORE STILL: Reader Peter Farmer emails:

I reside in the Chicago area, and have read the local “Chicago Tribune” for most of my life (I am 47). I started reading it as a grade-schooler, and have had ample opportunity to see the changes at the Tribune Co. over the years. The Tribune used to be a great newspaper, one which could be relied upon to report the news as impartially as possible for a human institution. Sure, I can remember my father grumbling about it – he was a senior executive at Motorola and had many dealings with the press – but we certainly never cancelled our subscription or questioned its professionalism.

I cannot mark precisely when the Tribune and The New York Times began to go downhill; I began to notice dramatic changes in the nature and quality of the content about ten years ago. Most conspicuously, nearly every section and article – save perhaps the comics and the sports page – contained more and more opinion and less and less factual content. I’ll be the first to admit opinion writing has its place, but one must first know the facts before forming opinions about them, and newspapers like the Tribune seemed to have progressively less regard for this vital task on a daily basis than ever before. What sealed the deal for me was their “reporting” about the war in Iraq. I have studied the military and military history for over 30 years, and have many sources of information in that field besides newspapers. After the invasion, it was easy to discern that few if any Tribune or other big-city newspaper reporters left the safety of their hotels in the Green Zone. Apparently, it is OK to sit in the bar with your colleagues from the other papers and maybe CNN or CBS or NBC, and simply phone it in without getting yourself dirty. Worse yet, as the Israeli-Palestinian flare-up of two years has shown, our news services are remarkably gullible, and willing to be used by stringers working for our ideological enemies, i.e. Al-Qaeda, the PLA, Hamas, Hezbollah, etc. or foreign news agencies biased against western values, such as Al-Jazeera. The AP was duped or worse, knowing used, “photo-shopped” images that purportedly showed an Israeli air strike against a marked ambulance, but were later exposed by internet fact-checkers as fraudulent propaganda on the part of the PLA. And, as you and many others in the conservative blogosphere have noted, Abu Ghraib made the front pages dozens and dozens of times, but not the good news about the war. Since the surge, presto! Good news about the war is nowhere to be found in the NYT or Tribune. Thank goodness for the blogosphere, and writers like Michael Yon and Ralph Peters.

Another nail in the coffin for the credibility of reporting by the dinosaur media is the sudden proliferation of celebrities as experts on everything from global warming to hostiles in the Iraq or Darfur to gay marriage. When did Rosie O’Donnell become an authority on anything besides mediocre comedy? And now – with a straight face no less – Al Franken is being considered seriously in some liberal-left quarters as Senatorial material. If that isn’t proof we’ve lost our collective minds, I don’t know what is! Perhaps he and Jerry Springer can hammer out the problem with the national debt in between cracking one-liners and interviewing one-legged transvestites or staging fights between estranged lovers.. Way back in the old days, when I was a kid (yeah, I know, the snow was ten feet deep and you had to walk twenty miles to school, grandpa), folks like these would have been laughed out of any serious newsroom or studio; they wouldn’t have made it in the door of any truly professional establishment, not to mention the Congress. Now, the Tribune features a column by Garrison Keillor, he of “Prairie Home Companion” fame. He has a nice show once in a while, but aren’t there better and better-qualified choices for a regular spot on your editorial page?

I am one of those folks who will mourn the death of the big-city news daily when it finally comes. I love a well-written newspaper, and the Fourth Estate has a critical role to play in the health of our Republic, if only they would in fact perform that role. Incidentally, author and physician Michael Crichton predicted the decline of the traditional media over decade ago; a transcript of one of his speeches on the topic is available on his website. Finally, my wife is from a small town, and we get the local newspaper each week – it shows all of the idiosyncrasies, of course, but all of the common sense, too – it respects the intelligence of the readers and does not stoop to political activism or naked partisanship. Maybe I’ll send a copy to the Tribune to show ‘em how it is done. Of course, they are too busy campaigning for Mr. Obama to notice....

Indeed.

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