Ed Driscoll

The Toothless Dog

In “The barkless dog,” the Economist laments the passing of the physically printed daily newspaper in New Orleans and other regions:

BY ONE measure, it was dying. In March 2005 the daily circulation of the Times-Picayune, the best newspaper in New Orleans, was around 257,000, up to 285,000 on Sundays. Seven years later those numbers had dropped to 134,000 and 155,000. Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005; in 2010 the city’s population was just 71% of what it had been in 2000.

By other measures, though, the Times-Picayune was thriving. Its market penetration was 65%, the fourth-highest of any newspaper in the country. And it was continuing to do excellent investigative work. But the decline in newspaper advertising revenue hit the paper hard, and on May 24th it announced that it will cease daily publication this autumn.

That will make New Orleans America’s biggest city without a daily newspaper. In future, the paper will come out on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Advance Publications, a media conglomerate that owns the Times-Picayune, announced similar changes at three of its Alabama newspapers: the Birmingham News, the Huntsville Times and the Press-Register in Mobile.

These four are merely the latest group of newspapers to combine print cutbacks and digital expansion. The Detroit Free Press is published on seven days a week but is delivered to subscribers on only three. Other Advance-owned newspapers across Michigan have also restricted deliveries of print editions while moving their focus online.

Inadvertently at the conclusion of the article, The Economist stumbles, Fox Butterfield-style, over just how ineffective newspapers have been as public watchdogs:

The effects of moving to a principally digital operation in two states with some of the lowest internet-usage rates in the country are also uncertain. The press has been called the watchdog of good government. Between 2001 and 2010, Louisiana and Alabama were among the ten most corrupt states, measured by public-corruption convictions per person and per government employee (Louisiana was top in both). What happens when nobody hears the watchdog bark?

But these regions (and the aforementioned Detroit) were corrupt back when people actually wanted to buy hard copies of newspapers; shifting to the Internet isn’t going to alter that equation. And heck, as far back as 32 years ago, when old media was still basking in the ruddy drunken glow of Watergate, Tom Wolfe told an interviewer in Rolling Stone, “Hell, to this day, you can’t get anything in newspapers. I think of this as the period of incredible shrinking news. I’m really convinced that there’s less news covered in America now than at any time in this century.” Wolfe would go on to add, “I don’t know how much corruption there is at the local level, but there’s never been a better time in the century for there to be corruption in local government, because the press is not gonna spot it.”

And even if, by chance, their reporters do happen to stumble over corruption, whether on a local or national level, if it’s going to hurt the media’s home team, we know now that it’s that much less likely that they’ll actually print it. Or to put it another way…Keep rockin’!