“What forces in America’s economy and culture are threatening the survival of newspapers and diverting audiences to other information sources? What are the consequences for us as citizens in a free society?”
Former Rocky Mountain News alternating ombudsmen David Kopel and Jason Salzman led a short (one-hour) discussion on the topic of declining newspaper readership and implications for news coverage and accessibility Friday May 1st at the Centennial Institute.
Both panelists discussed the challenge to traditional newspaper business models presented by the rise of online advertising (the “Craigslist” phenomenon). Kopel in particular noted the apparent lack of a market of people willing to pay for high-quality local news (as witness the failure of the InDenverTimes to meet a 50,000 subscriber target – attaining only 3,000+ paid subscribers). Kopel noted that there IS a paying market for business news. Salzman chimed in by decrying the “greedy” ownership of the Rocky Mountain News for pulling out of Denver so quickly – “they should’ve stayed longer” irrespective of financial losses.
Both panelists, in differing degree, also decried the decrease in “investigative reporting” accompanying the decline of newspapers (and corresponding staff reductions), with fewer ‘beat’ reporters tracking local and state government. Salzman lamented the lack of a “watchdog” function exercised by newspaper staff reporters; Kopel expressed similar sentiments, and noted that although alternative media (particularly bloggers) did provide some coverage of events, as a rule, “bloggers are not going out and finding the stories.” [Really? More on that later]
Salzman (who spoke second) could not resist taking a cheap shot at Kopel for “describing the problem, but not offering any solutions.” He then offered his take… Surprise! He advocated for a major government role in “saving journalism…”
- Direct support of existing newspapers through government subsidies (newspaper bailouts?) to “bridge the transition” from existing models to the ‘new newspaper economy’
- Creation of tax incentives to ease ownership by foundations or nonprofits
- Modification of the tax structure to ease ownership by unions/employees
- Increased funding for public broadcasting (PBS should be supported at even greater levels?)
- Provide an individual $200/annual tax credit for newspaper subscriptions
Kopel then responded by pointing out several pitfalls and fallacies in Salzman’s purported “solutions” – among them the editorial leverage that would be exerted by government “investment” in newspapers (Pravda, anyone?), the non-solution of changing ownership incentives (aside from there being no existing barriers or disincentives to ownership by unions, employees, foundations, or any other entities, the “solution” completely fails to address the problem), and the inherent pitfalls of providing a tax credit or subsidy (what publications would be approved? by whom?).
However, some of the most interesting discussion arose during the Q&A (which was cut short due to time constraints). Some samples:
An ”Online” model for news: Salzman noted the existence of some online news sources (he specifically mentioned Face The State and Colorado Independent) but decried the limited audience for each – a problem he suggested be rectified with the “support and nurture” of government (funding) assistance. Kopel noted that “device convergence” will eventually push more content to more ‘receivers’ – cellphones, PDA’s, the “Kindle” reader, etc. - with a business model built on “micro-commerce” (essentially, very low cost pay-per-view that is transparent to the consumer, much like charges for text messaging on non-unlimited plans).
Questioners noted that small community newspapers seemed to be filling the vacuum in coverage of local news. Both Kopel and Salzman agreed that the smaller papers – particularly in small towns – were NOT experiencing the same decline as major metropolitan newspapers.
Finally, several questioners brought up the issue of perceived bias or just plain inaccuracy in newspaper coverage. Here, interestingly enough, both Kopel and Salzman downplayed the issue of bias or coverage inaccuracy. However, multiple attendees cited examples of reporters just plain getting the facts wrong – in addition to more instances of reporters failing to understand the issues, background, or context on which they were reporting.
After acknowledging that journalists are not subject-matter experts (SMEs) by background or training, and frequently lack expertise in the subject areas they cover (Kopel noted that the knowledge deficit was particularly acute in the legal, scientific, and historical fields), the panelists posited a ‘new’ model of ‘distributed knowledge’ – or really a return to the origins of American journalism, the “pamphleteers” of the American founding.
Again, Salzman decried the “pampleteer” phenomenon, lamenting the loss of the “shared narrative” and “common base of knowledge” that existed under the ancien regime of major newspapers and “Big 3″ networks.
Despite providing some informed insight based on their several years of journalistic experience, particularly in assessing the changing business/market environment facing the mass media in general and newspapers in particular, the panelists largely missed the boat when it comes to understanding the rise and impact of alternative media and alternate information sources. Questioners correctly noted the widely-held perception of bias and inaccuracy in mass media reporting; both panelists erred in downplaying the impact of this phenomenon. The decline of newspapers (and search for alternative sources of information) is directly related to the death of journalism as a profession. Unlike the “glory days” of monolithic media dominance when Walter Cronkite was the “most trusted man in America,” journalists are now widely recognized as biased, lacking in integrity or just plain lazy when it comes to “doing the homework” on a story. Combined with increasing availability of alternative sources of information, growing numbers of people are seeking their news elsewhere.
However, the worst journalistic transgressions are sins of omission, not commission – the stories or news they DON’T cover. Historically, newspapers and the mass media have acted as gatekeepers for information – if they don’t recognize (and publish/broadcast) something as news, it ain’t news. This is not a new phenomenon – in fact, an excellent book titled “The Spike” (in the news world, to “spike” a story means to cancel its publication) described this as far back as 1980. The Liberal Establishment Mass Media (“LEMMing“) attempts to ignore or minimize the recent Tax Day Tea Party rallies nationwide is the latest and most prominent example of this – but, thanks in large part to alternative media and social networks spreading the word before, during, and after the event, the rallies were too large to ignore.
That is, they couldn’t be ignored entirely. That didn’t stop the LEMMings (including the only remaining major Denver newspaper, the Post) from failing to cover aspects of the story. Although Brian T. Campbell, organizer of the Denver Tax Day Tea Party, expressed satisfaction with the Denver Post’s coverage of the event, on questioning he conceded that this was mostly due to the fact that they didn’t ignore the official police estimates of attendance (“more than 5,000″) and got his quotes right (how low have our expectations fallen?) Left unmentioned in the Post’s coverage, however, was the fact that local lefty gadfly Michael Huttner (quoted extensively in the article) not only lied about attendance and lied about speakers at the event, but was also escorted away by the police for attempting to disrupt the event. Aren’t those tidbits newsworthy? One might think so…
As it happens, that information WAS covered – and publicized – by alternative media. Those much-disparaged citizen journalists – bloggers and “pamphleteers” – have consistently beaten “professional” journalists at their own game – investigating and breaking stories, covering local events and government activities (meetings, hearings, legislative debates, etc.) and doing so quickly (near-real-time or even real-time streaming coverage – such as the Ayers-Churchill “forum“) and with multiple media (text, still photos, and video) while providing original sourcing and references - allowing readers to conduct fact-checking as they read or view the news.
Bottom line: “if you’re getting your news from television or newspapers - you’re not getting the news.”
Praise for PPC From Our Lefty "Fan"
- "Zany-ass bombast-entertainment...Hackneyed weirdo communist pseudo-nostalgia" --Alan Franklin, ProgressNow
- PPC Training for Activists
UPDATE: Something apparently got messed up with the PayPal buttons during this past weekend’s database glitch – fixed now. Yes, it’s that time again — PPC will be conducting training classes for center-right activists on Saturday, April 20 and Saturday, April 27, at Independence Institute in Denver. The tentative class schedule is as follows: Saturday, [...]
- Holder’s First Letter to Paul Precipitates the Best Filibuster Ever
- The Lamest Twitter Argument Ever Offered?
- Return of the PPC Re-Education Camps – You Know You Want to Be There
- Supreme Courts Blesses Warrantless Surveillance of Citizens in a Kafkaesque Farce
- GOP Elite and the Ruling Class
- Do We Now Get to Call Joe Salazar a “Rapist”?