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Stopping the Presses
October 2, 2009

(originally broadcast April 17, 2009)

Stephen Colbert was both amusing and frightening, as usual, when he recently pondered on air: "The impending death of the newspaper industry: Where will they print the obituary?"

It's not just dailies or weeklies in small towns that are disappearing in droves but big city stalwarts like THE SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER and THE ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS. Even those papers still running presses are cutting staff, slashing sections and filing for bankruptcy or threatening closure. Bets are in over whether THE BOSTON GLOBE or THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE will be the next to go.

You can easily keep track of developments online. updates its "Extra! The Death Of The Newspaper In Pictures" feature every time another paper announces closure or downsizing. And, for more instantaneous gratification there is new Twitter feed Media is Dying. Of course, that feed also tracks downsizing magazines, radio and broadcast news media too.

Many analysts blame the rise of new media for the downfall of the old. But former beat reporter David Simon is not one of them. He points to the business model of newspapers before the Internet generation stated demanding news for free:

I would buy that if I wasn't in journalism for the years that immediately preceded the Internet. Because I took the third buyout from the BALTIMORE SUN. I was about reporter number 80 or 90 who left, in 1995. Long before the Internet had had its impact. I left at a time those buyouts happened when the BALTIMORE SUN was earning 37 percent profits [....] All that R&D money that was supposed to go into make newspapers more essential, more viable, more able to explain the complexities of the world. It went to shareholders in the Tribune Company or the L.A. Times-Mirror company before that. And ultimately, when the Internet did hit, they had an inferior product that was not essential enough that they could charge online for it.
But Simon isn't sanguine about the loss of the what the daily newspaper can be at its best, as he recently remarked to the UK's GUARDIAN: "Oh, to be a state or local official in America without newspapers. It's got to be one of the great dreams in the history of American corruption."

Is it too late for the newspapers? For the press in general? Check out JOURNAL coverage of topics from media consolidation to the proper role of the D.C. press corps and the resources below. Then head to The Moyers Blog to weigh on the future of the press, politics and the new media.

Published April 17, 2009.

Guest photos by Robin Holland

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References and Reading:
Recent Coverage on the Death of Newspapers

"Making Old Media New Again,"Op-Ed,: THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, April 13, 2009.

"Newspapers Suffering in Europe, Too" THE WASHINGTON TIMES, Elizabeth Bryant, April 13, 2009.

"PRWeek/PR Newswire 2009 Media Survey"Frank Washkuch, April 6, 2009
The ominous first line of the report reads: "With layoffs and outlet closures now commonplace, the fate of many journalists is unclear."

Extra! The Death Of The Newspaper In Pictures"

"Chicago Tribune to cut newsroom 20 percent" UPI, April 13, 2009.

Recent Coverage

The Annenberg Public Policy Center
Part of the Annenberg School for Communications at the University of Pennsylvania, this organization researches media and communications policy issues.

The Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA)
The CMPA is a "nonprofit, nonpartisan research and educational organization that conducts scientific studies of the news and entertainment media. The site offers an archive of research reports on news coverage of such diverse issues as economics, science, and politics, recent press releases and links to international media monitoring organizations."

The COLUMBIA JOURNALISM REVIEW was founded in 1961 "to assess the performance of journalism in all its forms; to call attention to its shortcomings and strengths; to help define and redefine the standards of honest, responsible service; to help stimulate continuing improvement in the profession; and to speak out for what is right, fair and decent." It is published bimonthly by the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. The site hosts a number of links for media literacy and tools for journalists.
Free Press is a national nonpartisan organization working on media policy. Free Press favors "a more competitive and public interest-oriented media system with a strong nonprofit and noncommercial sector." The Web site contains information on its net neutrality and anti-media consolidation efforts.

Newspaper Association of America
The homepage of the Association features a call to arms to save newspapers. The site also presents facts and figures on the state of the industry.

Project for Excellence in Journalism - "The State of News Media"
This survey was conducted in 2004, a year that top administration officials and various conservatives argued that the coverage was heavily critical of President Bush, focusing on US casualties and other setbacks rather on positive developments.

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The U.S. has five percent of the world's population and 25 percent of the world's prisoners -- how did we get here?

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