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Why Are Newspapers Struggling?

Speaking with Bill Moyers on this week’s JOURNAL, former reporter David Simon contended that the recent struggles of the newspaper industry cannot simply be blamed on the Internet, as many have done:

“This is not all the Internet. A lot of the general tone in journalism right now is that of martyrology: ‘We were doing our job, making the world safe for democracy, and all of a sudden terra firma shifted [with] new technology. Who knew that the internet was gonna overwhelm us?’ I would buy that if I wasn’t in journalism for the years that immediately preceded the internet...

All that [Research and Development] money that was supposed to go into making newspapers more essential, more viable, more able to explain the complexities of the world, went to shareholders in the Tribune company... ultimately, when the Internet did hit, they had an inferior product that was not essential enough that they could charge online for it. The guys who are running newspapers over the last 20 or 30 years have to be singular in the manner in which they destroyed their own industry.... they had contempt for their own product.”

What do you think?

  • What are the main causes of the newspaper industry’s current struggles?

  • Do newspapers today provide essential information for a healthy democracy? Did they do a better job of providing that information 20 or 30 years ago?

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    C. Ikehara : It was quite blocked up as "insecure" but I finally found your short opinion piece in the Korea Times. Yes, it is obvious that serious reading has gone out of fashion. (Maybe Jean Luc Picard's hardbacks are a lie.)

    Observe how the best talkshow or public opinion hosts (not Oprah) do plenty of critical reading and hob-nobbing with literate people. What a luxury that lifestyle must be! Moyers, Mike Collins in Charlotte (WFAE), Diane Rehm must spend many hours with their noses in good books to the exclusion of what others would call fun.
    You know your stuff, C. Ikehara. Your librarian education hads served you well. How much time do you spend reading these days?

    Moyers (with his well-read staff) illustrates how good humane judgment is well served by a variety of serious reading, fiction and non-fiction, also poetry with some guilty pleasures. Headlines and celebrity gossip won't charge the mental battery.

    the lascano

    The article, "Reading in the 21st-Century", may be of interest:

    Media conglomeration under huge international corporations is the root of the problem. Of course the outlets became corporate cheerleaders, and then our corporate courts even gave them license to lie.

    For this we should pay money?

    Anyone who considers truth relevant is forced onto the Internet now. Those with a worthwhile product could easily sell it online, after proving the reliability of the brand.

    The regrettable loss is to writers and editors (of whom I'm one), but audiences no longer need a thousand takes on each major story -- just a few accurate ones and, sadly, they're still in short supply.

    Little local ad-supported papers will live on. Beyond those, hard copy was already slitting its throat before the Net got going.

    The real issue is that new economic conditions have suddenly zapped the power that newspapers are accustomed to.

    "Newspapers" are simply a medium of communicating information. With the invention of new technology this medium is no longer in demand. Much like the disappearance of the horse & buggy, with the invention of the automobile.

    Information and news is still being exchanged. The newspaper is just not fast enough; like the horse & buggy is not fast enough. I'm sure similar discussions were being held by buggy makers when the automobile came into use.
    Maybe the government is still subsidising buggy makers somewhere, and we just don't know it. Ha! Ha!

    Newspapers need to reinvent themselves as some of them are already doing, and look around and see what people need and want, and invent a way to start selling people what they need and want instead of complaining. Oh, that might be called capitalism.

    I think that Newspaper have suffered steady decline is that news has been compartmentalized to the point where people have specific interest and have faster, more accessible means of getting to it. This is evident through the popularity of a website like youtube which has a buffet of entertainment and education programming only a click away.

    Love David Simon. Only watched because he was on it, but enjoyed the show immensely. Will watch again.The Wire was underrated. Thanks Bill Moyers for putting Simon on to express his views.

    I am 38 years old and I never routinely read a newspaper even before the Internet.

    Internet or NOT local news just is not interesting enough for most people outside of politics or government to read.

    I do agree with the experience that you can only expose local corruption effectively through a news paper medium, however if that is the main reason to have a newspaper - good luck!

    To me, the Internets are by far the primary reason for bringing down these newspapers. The newspapers could have slowed down the inevitable by spending money to make themselves more essential, but eventually they would have succumbed to a free web page.

    Let’s face it, news is news. Why would I pay to read news from a single website when I can go to a variety of other sites and read basically the same thing for free? It all comes down to the money. Why are the weasels at Walmart more successful than the ones at Macy’s? It’s because their lower operating expenses allows them to undercut their competition with lower prices. So, a free website will usually undercut a pay site.

    Newspapers started juking stats just like schools, the police and politicians. They switched their market reach from paid circulation to "total research" when a consultant told them an average paper is read by 2.8 readers or something, they started redefining "success," and started referring to the company's product as "profit" and not a newspaper. The headlines and editorials written by papers if they honestly covered their own industry would be staggering.

    If newspapers showed more spine in reporting what they are Constitutionally mandated to report, the papers would be flying off the shelves.

    The New York Slimes has served as a conveyor belt for White House lies and smear campaigns for the past 8 years, perhaps longer.

    I have no sympathy.

    [quote]Mr. Simon mentioned Haymarket; said it was about the forty hour week. It was about the eight hour day; big difference.[/quote]

    The two movements went hand in hand; however, it took until the Fair Labor Standards of 1938 to get the to get the 40 hour week.

    Newspapers, like virtually all of mainstream media, are a complete joke. They merely repeat government press releases. Real investigative journalism and honest analysis is not to be found in newspapers or on the nightly news.

    The comment posted by Cheryl Ann Nelson (April 18, 2009 3:29 PM) states the basic reasons very well:

    * corporate media consolidation
    * MBA business views (entertainment/ads = profit but news = cost)
    * decrease in true news investigation and local news staff
    * decrease in local reports and increased reliance on national news feeds for content

    Oddly enough, newspaper purchases increase when they focus on true news reporting during major events because people want details and to gain a better understanding of HOW and WHY beyond the brief video clip seen on TV. Most of the time those events are local in nature but today's newspapers rarely do the in-depth local reporting and many times cannot (see bullet points above).

    I still love reading a good newspaper but that is becoming a rare commodity. When I travel, I pick up the local paper to get a sense of the city in a more honest, direct way. For example, when I was in Seattle a couple years ago I read about the need to assist fire, police, and teachers to find affordable housing so they could continue to work in the community because housing costs had grown so high. That newspaper article (and other local-based articles) told me more about the city than the local TV newscasts that day.

    Newspapers excel at depth and breadth and suffer in today's media options when attempting to be the "breaking news" service. For many still, TV is the first option for breaking news and the Internet is second -- although that is beginning to shift as well. But a newspaper provides the means to connect the stories together. The printed newspaper has long provided links to prior news articles and can leverage this even better with their online newspaper option.

    TV and the Internet are not to blame for the rapid demise of newspapers. Some businesses do not fit a particular model. Major corporate consolidation is a model that does not fit the newspaper business.

    I'd go back further than 20 or 30 years. During the Vietnam War and American involvement in Vietnam pre-Tonkin Gulf Resolution, almost all U.S. newspapers were hawking anti-communism and/or echoing government policy. For a clearer take and greater accuracy, I turned to I.F. Stone's Weekly, independently written and "brought to market," a one-person-show that in research, reporting, and objectivity surpassed most "papers of record."

    Mr. Simon mentioned Haymarket; said it was about the forty hour week. It was about the eight hour day; big difference. The newspapers got it wrong back then too. Obama will have time to visit the martyrs' graves after his first/last term. What will journalists do with that? They have time between now and then.

    The demise of American newspapers began when corporate media chains succeeded in outnumbering the media families who historically owned and operated our media.

    Executives having ink running in their veins were replaced by MBAs who often had no media experience. The MBAs knew how to make businesses profitable, but knew little about this particular industry.

    These executives didn't understand that news and information could not be turned into a profit center without endangering the business and industry as a whole.

    News coverage is time consuming and expensive. To turn content into a profit center required layoffs and consolidation of reporters and editors. The first to go were fact checkers, copy editors, and those charged with supplanting wire stories with information from a local perspective. Investigative reporting was deemed too cost intensive, as were beat reporters. Local reporting was expensive, so it went away too. All these types of coverages were killed - along with the jobs of the people who performed them.

    All we're left with is a collection of wire stories, most of which no longer are elaborated upon to provide local context. Readers in Baltimore might hear of a severe drought in the Midwest, but do not have the added benefit of learning how it will affect the price of the breads, cereals, meats and other foods they eat.

    The lack of local reportage and context has made the newspaper irrelevant to readers, who can find that same Midwest drought story on a competitors' website. In fact, a copy of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reads little different today than a copy of the Baltimore Sun. It's almost like reading the same paper with a different masthead.

    Is it any accident that the greatest declines in newspaper readership occurred following the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine? Media are no longer required to present both sides of the stories to readers and viewers. The result is that many media outlets function as propaganda organs with a few news stories thrown in. Consumers don't have the benefit of being able to weigh the pros and cons of issues. Those who want to read the contrary viewpoint are forced to seek out additional news stories on their own. At no time was this more apparent than in the rush to war in Iraq.

    Newspapers cannot compete with broadcasters for breaking news coverage, nor should they try. The nature of the medium doesn't allow for it. They should, however, concentrate themselves on complimenting broadcast coverage with additional in-depth information from local perspectives.

    Do they have the will? I think the individual journalists do. I'm less sanguine about their MBA degreed bosses. They have retained fewer reporters and editors on payroll. The ranks are now too small to do the job properly.

    H.L. Mencken would spin in his grave if he knew what has become of the Baltimore Sun.

    Simon was fired/released from a newspaper that was making 37% profit - so more might be returned to the shareholders. That story has been repeated time and again across all industry in America. Wall Street is wonderful at funding new and creative ideas. When the country runs out of ideas and there is money looking for a home - you get what we have in America today. M&A's, roll-ups, and the likes of credit swaps. It is the job of government to manage the money supply. Alan Greenspan told David Faber that was a politically impossible task. If true then why have a Federal Reserve?
    David Simon has a lot to say. More of us should listen.

    The main causes of the newspaper industry’s current struggles are the absence of trust and integrity in journalism, generally, and in newspapers particularly. Years ago, a community could trust the local owner and employees of the local newspaper. Those news persons responded to the citizens’ trust with very high integrity; much like Bill Moyer does even today. Then, along came the big-newspaper-business. Like other business sectors of our communities, the “bigger the badder!” Like with all other big business, the newspaper caveat, now, is “buyer beware.”

    Newspapers can provide essential information for a healthy democracy, and they should. But for today’s newspapers, business comes first. Among all newspaper’s interests are advertising and circulation. Newspapers have become driven puppets to their ad and circulation needs. And they can no longer be trusted to be objective or honest because of those needs. The result is that today’s newspapers are neither objective nor fully disclosing. They are biased. Again, “buyer beware!”

    Yes, newspapers did a much better job of providing honest, objective and full information 20 or 30 years ago. That was the period of real journalism before business. However, a good hundred years ago those newspapers were not to be trusted, either; not because of business bias but because they were openly established and run as ‘interests,’ usually political. But in the mid-nineteen-hundreds when schools of journalism were established and journalism became a profession, not a business, newspapers were at their prime. Back then, they were honest, most useful to society, and important to our democracy.

    I have seen David Simon speaking to various groups and he is consistently compelling on his analysis of our country’s problems. His depressing critique and probable forecast for our future has finally provided clarification for the questions that many Americans have been asking. I don’t have the answer/s but I can now take solace that many of us now know the problem. One positive aspect is that we now have the foundation of a meaningful debate !

    Newspapers did self-destruct instead of adapt to a paradigm shift. Their unquestioning support of the Bush administration debacle was a disaster on top of the net threat.
    We are all paying the price for their lunacy.

    As usual, Bill Moyers brings us some great stories and interviews--I was very moved by last week's episode on the words of Abraham Lincoln and many of our great figures of letters since his time up to ours who provided their takes on this iconic figure of American history.
    I also was most interested in the hour long interview with David Simon-I have worked for several small town, "community" newspapers over the years--the same thing Simon mentions regarding big city dailies has also happened to their smaller kin---real news coverage has gone the way of the Carrier Pigeon.
    It was interesting to hear Mr. Simon's thoughts on the points he covered regarding the state of journalism, law enforcement, politics and education. I was a big fan of "The Wire"--it was one of those seminal television programs, even though it did not quite attain the degree of popularity of other HBO programs such as "The Sopranos" or "Deadwood."
    To the producers of The Journal--I have recently gone back to the past interviews with Bruce Fein and John C. Bogle--please bring them and others back on the show as follow-ups to what they said at the times they were interviewed and to comment on our current situation.

    We watch Bill Moyers' Journal regularly and are strongly affected by his guests and the issues discussed (although often depressed).
    Last night's journal (April 17) moved us more deeply than anything we have seen on TV in a very long time (with the exception of The Wire). We are so appreciative of the work of David Simon and, of course, Bill Moyers. May they both continue to inspire us to be more aware and contribute more effort on behalf of social justice.

    LB Olshan

    I thank KLRU, Bill Moyers and most of his guessfor such a great programing. I get informed, puzzled, driven to action by all this good to great thinker, speakers,writers, producer and believer in the spectrum of human behaviour and nature. Every time I watch this program or other of similar quality at KLRU, It reminds me that it was well worth leaving my country,family and culture behind to experience reasoning. Thank you for giving sense to my loss and for helping me feed my life with hope for a much better futurefor us all. Keep up the great work KLRU et all.

    I prefer thinking that we can have quality newspapers and information through the intenet. In other words choices without blame or diminishment for those who purchase newspapers or read criically on line. Yes we are disappointed about the direction of newspapers. We grieve for so many ways our country has failed to live up to its ideals.
    Yet to solve our problems, we need a whole lot of optimism and industry from individuals working collaboratively. How do we save the jobs within the newspaper industry as well as the ideal roles newspaper reporters and editors play? By thinking carefully and realistically about the losses to our culture when newspapers no longer print in small communities and in large and by encouraging and insisting they return to the ideals of journalism we all miss. We can't get there if we don't subscribe.

    Advertisements contain the only truths to be relied on in a newspaper.
    Thomas Jefferson

    I try not to read them either. = MJA

    If your looking for truth study nature. Michelangelo

    Time to go for a walk. = MJA

    I have never watched the WIRE- so I was totally struck by Mr. Simon's ability to recognize in society what most underpaid, non-advancing civil servants such as myself (social worker) have realized: Poverty in America is essentially the manifestation of Racism and Classism. However, most people today would like to deny that such isms have anything to do with the divide between the rich and the poor; It is the reality, one part of America experiences daily.

    Thank You Mr. Moyers and Mr. Simon for an extremely thrilling discussion that made me want to rent The WIRE and further explore the dynamics of Race and Capitalism in America today.

    Most people in smaller towns take the paper for varied reasons. Some for the grocery adds and letters to the editor. Others look at the obits and marriages. Of course they want to see who's been arrested/convicted. To these readers, any real substantive news they may read is incidental. The smaller paper's saviour may very well be these type of readers who need local content and news. Some have quit carrying almost all the national news. That leaves us with the dangerous scenario of having just a handfull of very large news conglomerates who have diametrically opposed ideologies. Bill Oreilly on one side and Keith Olberman on the other, if you will. Thus, the death of good 'watchdog' journalism in print. As the author points out so well, the end result will be rampant corruption.

    I agree, it is not the internet. The consolidation of media ownership has played a part in the demise the arts of articulation and debate. Some would also say that true compassion and empathy have also departed. There is no reason to purchase a newspaper anymore. We can predict the daily message contained in most newspapers. In one form or another, the message is always that the wealthy deserve our sympathy and the poor are poor because they are flawed." I not only disagree with this message, I am tired of hearing it and unwilling to pay good money to read it over and over again. Newspaper owners now whine that no one buys the paper any more. Hello?

    Those newspaper owners deserve to fail. It is sad because the great newspapers and their staff do not deserve this outcome. Unfortunately, the owners either did not understand or did not value the newspaper's important role in keeping a democracy vital. They only understood their need to make a quick a profit. So, the money is drying up now and they want to blame everyone but themselves.

    The most talented writers were removed and writers who carefully obeyed the editorial policies were retained. Is anyone really surprised that this practice has made the Great American Newspaper irrelevant and unreadable? Fortunately for us, people like David Simon have not given up and continue to write thoughtful, provoking material for magazines, books and the screen.

    Things are always changing in this wonderful world of ours, but the appreciation for quality writing and thoughtful presentation is timeless. Thank you Bill Moyers.

    The news media in general and specifically totally failed the country being politically correct when Colin Powell made his empassioned speach at the United Nationa and I totally believe are responsible for the war in Iraq. Your program that made a strong point of stating that the inspectors had just left Iraq and determined that there were not weapons of mass destruction there did not detere the news media from being politically correct and backing Colin Powell on getting rid of Sadam Hussien. Shame on them many times over.

    Newspapers are blaming the Internet for their downfall. How good can their reporting be if they missed THE BIGGEST TECHNOLOGY STORY SINCE TELEVISION?

    But now that they are on the net, their lack of "localness" shows, in that even major city papers don't have much more news than TV stations' sites (which are also updated throughout the day), and a lack of depth. I thought they were keeping stories off the web page to drive paper sales, but then I bought a paper to compare and 90% of the stories were national wire feeds and other canned packages. I'm sure 20 years ago it would have been worth the $.75, but not today.

    The strange thing is, journalism schools are booked full of students. Hopefully, some of these students will take a few business classes so they can make money on their blogs. There is a place for local journalism on the Internet, but it won't be anything like the Daily Planet or the Daily Bugle. It will look like a stay at home mother working in the spare bedroom, covering the city council meeting for her video blog.

    Big newspapwes. autos, etc. allowed annual reports & profits for today to lead to believing they new what the customer should have & to late found that Mainstreet eventually decides enough is enough & thakes business elswhere.

    Governments, federal, state & local take note!

    The newspapers controlled stories & local events were not big stories so local was pretty much ignored & now locals can get big stories almost real time elsewhere. Who bought papers--locals.
    Goodby papers.

    I remember back in high school when I was one of those idealist writers for our campus journal, I always save a part of my allowance to buy one of the broadsheets, and scour the whole paper for all the pertinent news and be in awe of those hard hitting journalists.

    Now, however,I can't even begin to read one aside from glancing the headlines. For one thing, as mentioned by Michael above, everything sounds crappy. Not to mention that papers today consist of 20% news, bylines and paid opinions, and 80% advertisements. Not that I blame them about the ads knowing how expensive running a paper is. But can't they at least deliver news with integrity? Is it any wonder that I prefer reading the news on my screen nowadays when I have the option of checking more than one source in a matter of few clicks?

    I couldn't agree more with most of what he says. Regarding newspapers, as the poster says above, most of the troubled papers that are near and dear to me were bought with borrowed money by big multifaceted corporations that saw them only as profit centers. And, of course, the slash and burn began soon after. Although I moved far away from my small rural hometown decades ago, I still subscribed to the little newspaper that had been in existence since the 1940's...until February, when I got a bankruptcy notice from the huge corporation that had bought the paper a few years ago. Along with the legal papers was a list--multiple pages long--of all the publications they had bought up and have now put out of business. There were no huge well-known papers on this list, just a bunch of little communities, nationwide, that have now lost a piece of their hearts. I cried as I filled out the papers requesting my money back for the subscription that I had just renewed. This is the paper that ran my high school graduation picture as I went off to college, then my dad's, and later my mom's, obituaries. It's the paper that my poor, non-Internet-connected, relatives looked forward to for the high school sports rankings, the birth announcements, the school tax news, and, of course, the obits. We're losing more than the in-depth hard news as we lose print journalism.

    Date: Saturday, April 18, 2009 03:00 am CDT

    David Simon is right about the Internet not being the problem.

    The newspapers are struggling because of their unwillingness to adjust to the needs and desires of the customer -- it is just that simple. Technology has created the possibility of two-way communication -- and that is what the customers want.

    But, journalists are too busy to get involved in any kind of meaningful communication.

    And, Bill Moyers is no exception as evidenced by this comment section (which is NOT two-way). Also, please note that Mr. Moyers does NOT publish an e-mail address, for obvious reasons (there are alternatives, Bill).

    Doug Skoglund - for additional information.

    The internet will become more full bodied and start providing us with investigative journalism. It will take awhile to figure how it will function but it will happen. Perhaps as that happens, then, newspapers will be reborn online.

    Simple answer; crappy journalism.

    There is no need to choose between print and online journalism. Each has advantages, and both are important. What worries me, though, is the search for new "economic models" that will allow invaluable content providers, like the Associated Press, to make a profit online.

    Among the ideas being considered is to provide some limited online content free of charge, but reserve other content only to subscribers. This would be a disservice to the public, and undermine the free flow of information.

    Copyright law protects the format in which information such as news appears in, but it does NOT protect the information itself. There is good reason for that.

    One idea that I should like people to consider is the possibility of subsidizing online newspapers. After all, our professional journalists provide a service that is of vital importance to the public. Why not support that work with public funds?

    Some people will likely worry that if the government subsidizes online journalism, it will seek to exert influence over the information we receive. But such influence is clearly prohibited by the First Ammendment.

    In fact, it is the influence of corporate ownership that most severely impairs the ability of journalists to report freely. What most people do not realize is that professional journalists who work for privately-owned newspapers are not necessarily protected by the First Amendment.

    The First Amendment prohibits governement censorship, but not private censorship. The Constitution prevents the government from punishing a journalist who writes an unflattering report, for example. But the Constitution does NOT prevent an editor from firing a journalist. The First Amendment only protects the newspaper's owner -- not the individual journalist.

    In contrast, if an online publication were subsidized by the federal government, it would be subject to the constitutional protections of the First Amendment.

    Is there any doubt that corporate ownership and media conglomeration have been detrimental to journalism? When the companies that own media empires also own huge military contracting firms, is it any wonder that news content urges us on to yet another needless war?

    Journalist who write for publicly owned publications, though, receive full constitutional protection, and are free to report as they see fit, without worrying about whether their careers will suffer.

    The solution to keeping newspapers eoncomically viable is not to restrict information, seek clever new advertising strategies, or sue those who simply desire to cite relevant information they found online. The solution is to purge journalism of the corporate influence that has corrupted it for so long. Let's subsidize those journalists who are willing to adhere to the highest standards of journalism. It is easier to scrutinize the government, and prevent governmental influence on the press than it is to keep track of which megalithic corporations have merged with which others, how many hundreds of channels they own, and how very much influence their avarice has on each story.

    I think he's speaking from the "insiders" perspective.

    From an outsider's perspective, there are some specific problems with "newspapers". You can't read them at your desk without publicizing you're not working, they are dirty, they require disposal, and in this day of instant information, they are "old news" by the time they are distributed.

    Our aging population is largely out of the online information system and are probably the largest group of paper readers. As they lose the ability or inclination to read the "paper", subscriptions decline.

    It is simply fate, and is heading in the direction of landline telephones and other outdated "technologies".

    The objective should always be to build a better mousetrap.

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