TNR on the ‘end’ of newspapers

Over the weekend, I was at a community gathering at which pretty much everyone I ran into expressed concerns about what's happening to newspapers these days, and particular their newspaper, The State. I appreciated the concern.

Since then, of course, we've had the bankruptcy of the papers in Philly, which along with other recent developments inspired Robert's cartoon today.

Now I get an alert to this cover story in the next edition of The New Republic, headlined "THE END OF THE PRESS: Democracy Loses its Best Friend." It's by Princeton prof Paul Starr. It begins:

We take newspapers for granted. They have been so integral a part of daily life in America, so central to politics and culture and business, and so powerful and profitable in their own right, that it is easy to forget what a remarkable historical invention they are. Public goods are notoriously under-produced in the marketplace, and news is a public good—and yet, since the mid-nineteenth century, newspapers have produced news in abundance at a cheap price to readers and without need of direct subsidy. More than any other medium, newspapers have been our eyes on the state, our check on private abuses, our civic alarm systems. It is true that they have often failed to perform those functions as well as they should have done. But whether they can continue to perform them at all is now in doubt.

Actually, I suppose I take the points Mr. Starr makes in his piece pretty much for granted, since I live and breathe them — which doesn't mean I don't attach importance to them, because we're talking about some horrific stuff from where I sit. I just find myself going, "Well, duh," a lot as I read it, but some of it might make points you haven't thought about. And he DOES bring up some ideas I had NOT thought about, such as some of his ideas on how to save newspapers — which seem to be sort of out of left field until you realize that nobody has any better ideas (that can be shown to work), which is sobering to say the least.

Just keeping y'all in the loop folks, as I've been doing. I don't know how much of this stuff you want brought to your attention, since it isn't, like, your living the way it is mine…

24 thoughts on “TNR on the ‘end’ of newspapers

  1. Doug Ross

    The article claims that losing newspapers will result in less government oversight.
    That’s a false assertion. I think we’re seeing more government oversight in the form of blogs than newspapers ever provided.
    Check out some of the stuff Will Folks puts on his blog. Much harder to keep the lid on scandal these days.
    A scandal like Watergate would be over in days or weeks today.

  2. Mab

    Will Folks is a loose cannon!
    He doesn’t get death threats for NOT telling the truth, that’s for sure.
    This state has conducted its business via intimidation and twilight for TOO LONG.

  3. Brad Warthen

    Doug, in answer to your SERIOUS question, “What are you doing to change your business model to drive revenues?” I guess the short answer would be, “everything.”
    The immediate problem at the moment is that however inventive or creative or brilliant the folks running newspapers might be, there’s the brutal underlying fact that advertisers aren’t spending — not with us, not with anybody.
    We had problems before, but this general collapse of economic activity, particularly in consumer spending — but also in the credit-driven businesses of real estate and auto sales, not to mention the kinds of business investment that leads to hiring (think about it: a huge part of our business is classifieds, and the three big categories of classifieds are employment, real estate and auto) — is just a crushing blow. And that probably doesn’t express it strongly enough.

  4. KP

    What Will Folks does is NOT government oversight because it’s not real reporting. He covers only what supports his extreme right-wing ideology. He gives you one side of any story, and even that side is heavy on opinion and really light on fact. Most of his sources are anonymous; the rest are committed to a political agenda and no more reliable than Will himself. And it says all that right there on the masthead: “Unfair, Unbalanced.”
    Like his latest story, on McConnell and Clemson and the Hunley. Who can tell what to make of that?
    Will can’t be an effective contributor to government oversight because it’s too easy to dismiss what he says. You can’t hold government to account with wild-eyed reporting. But that’s what we’ll be left with if the mainstream media don’t soon figure out the new world.

  5. Mab

    From the catbird seat I didn’t seek out and sure as heck wouldn’t choose if I had it to do over again, Folks is right on the money.
    You may not like his political persuasions, but don’t bash his upending of the establishment. Unless, of course, you are part OF it.

  6. Ish Beverly

    Newspapers are failing because the editors let their personal ideology determine the news they sell. The newspaper wants to run and control politics. And as Mr. Starr said, they don’t perform as they should. When you continue to push a liberal cause or person, and don’t report all the news because it would conflict with your agenda/ideology, the support you lose was more likely buying your newspapers. Perhaps if newspapers just printed unbiased news, both good and bad, and all political endorsements declared as campaign contributions, paid for by the candidate or organization, balance out opinion and commentary, we might be willing to pay a good price for a good newspaper.

  7. Thomas

    “Newspapers are failing because the editors let their personal ideology determine the news they sell.”
    I’m conservative, and I absolutely CAN NOT STAND this argument. No, that’s not why newspapers are failing. If you believe that, then the burden is on you to explain why newspapers weren’t failing a decade ago. Did this “driven by ideology” business only happen to spring up in the past few years? If not, why weren’t newspapers failing years earlier?
    You’ll also need to explain why conservative-oriented papers are failing right along with the liberal ones.
    The real reason for the news industry’s struggles has been laid out plainly, time and again: Advertising does not generate much revenue online, and ad revenue is the lifeblood of news organizations.
    Millions of people didn’t suddenly cancel their print subscriptions because they suddenly decided newspapers were too liberal. They canceled them because the content became available for free online. Yet despite all these readers now on paper’s websites — more than the print products ever had, in many cases — the old revenues could not be matched, because online advertising doesn’t make money.
    This is all very simple and easy to understand, yet some people insist on pretending there’s some other interpretation for what’s going on. It’s maddening.

  8. Thomas

    Just to cement my point: Ish Beverly, you are a conservative, and yet you are still patronizing this newspaper. Here you are, on its website, consuming its content.
    Here you are, being a customer of a liberal newspaper.
    I’m conservative, and I’m sitting here doing the same thing: consuming this organization’s content, being a customer.
    I do it here instead of in print, because I get this for free. Unfortunately for The State, my eyeballs are worth less to advertisers here than they are in the print edition. But they’re still my conservative eyeballs, and yours too. The State didn’t lose us as readers. You destroy your own argument by your very presence in this thread. Yet you didn’t even realize it.
    With all due respect, I think you need some arguing lessons.

  9. Lee Muller

    People haven’t just quit buying newspspapers;
    they have quit reading newspapers.
    They aren’t just reading them online for free.
    They are reading better articles online from other sources.
    86% of newspaper editors are registered Democrats. They are biased, and they distort and cover up to protect Democrats. They are not watchdogs. They are a branch of big government, out there selling socialism to the masses, and the masses aren’t buying it, at least not with money.

  10. Thomas

    “They are reading better articles online from other sources.”
    Another commenter who, with all due respect, doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
    Who are these “other sources”? Where are their reporters in your city council meetings, on the scene of plane crashes, on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, in the press box and locker room of the country’s sports teams? Seriously — do you understand the difference between analysis and reporting? Do you understand that it takes bodies, lots of bodies, to gather the daily churn of news? Do you understand that the financial problems faced by newspapers aren’t the problems of newspapers, per se, but of anyone attempting to support content online via advertising?
    The places that supply these “better articles online,” whatever they may be, however wonderful they are, are in the same fundamentally precarious position that newspapers are. This dilemma is not about content quality, it’s not about ideological leanings, it’s not even about audience size — it’s about advertising revenue. Period.
    You could throw away today’s entire news industry and start from scratch, and try building a news business that’s as objective or even as conservative as you and I would love to see. It would not change a thing. It would not change the fundamental financial problem that is threatening this sort of business. It’s hard to understand why this is so hard for people to understand.

  11. Thomas

    One final thought for now:
    This is what bugs me about fellow conservatives who glean their information from talk radio, blogs and online news aggregators (all of which I love for what they are): Many of them don’t understand that the information provided in these places is still coming from somewhere else. From reporters. From the on-the-ground journalism that is now in danger. OK, it’s not that they’re not capable of “understanding” this — it’s just that they don’t think it through.
    When Rush talks about the details of such-and-such scandal, or such-and-such comment by Senator X, etc., it’s not because he went and gathered the information first-hand. He’s simply expounding on news reports — reports that originated somewhere else by someone else. Now, his show or a blog or Townhall might be where you wind up getting the information, but it’s not where the information ultimately originated.
    When we talk about the death of newspapers, we’re talking about the death of that source — the demise of that entire enterprise where human beings are paid to spend time gathering the raw details about what’s going on in the world.
    We take the news for granted. Somehow we seem to think it will just keep existing somehow, despite the fact that we’re about to kill off the very industry that provides it. We’re just so used to it being here, being part of our lives, it’s as if we can’t actually conceive of a world without it. But that’s what we’re on the verge of having.
    Conservatives, especially, NEED TO UNDERSTAND AND APPRECIATE THIS. We don’t want a government that’s unchecked by watchdogs. Save the comments about “reporters in the tank for Obama,” etc. That’s an ephemeral, narrow view. I’m talking bigger picture: We don’t want a United States without a powerful press. This is extremely important stuff, and it’s time for conservatives to stop being so dismissive of what is a very dangerous situation.

  12. Lee Muller

    My other sources are:
    * Wall Street Journal
    * Times of London
    * BBC
    * other foreign news
    * Military news
    * socialist and communist web sites affiliated with the Democrats in the USA
    * experts in various business, engineering and science fields, on vertical subject matter web sites, which are non-political.
    All these sources provide real news that the mainstream liberal press keeps from its audience.
    Newsweek refused to print the story about Bill Clinton having an affair with and intern and paying her off with a $90,000 job at the State Department, until Matt Drudge leaked the news.
    None of the mainline news outlets dared investigate Obama’s refusal to account for 12 years of not paying rent, having a telephone, utility bills or tax returns. They brushed aside is radical ties to communists and real estate swindlers.

  13. Lee Muller

    Chris Matthews says ‘Oh God’ before Jindal spoke
    Published: 2/25/09, 3:46 PM EDT
    NEW YORK (AP) – MSNBC’s Chris Matthews quietly uttered “Oh God” as Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal prepared to give the Republican Party response to President Barack Obama’s speech to Congress. An NBC executive, who requested anonymity because the network is still looking into the matter, named Matthews as the one who made the live mike slip – it was so quiet most listeners wouldn’t be able to identify the speaker.
    The Huffington Post posted a link to the comment and asked viewers to guess Wednesday who had made it: 32 percent had guessed Matthews, 35 percent said it was co-anchor Keith Olbermann, 15 percent said it was an MSNBC camera operator and 18 percent thought it was a producer.
    MSNBC had no immediate comment.

  14. Rich

    I still love the Sunday paper!! I get up late on Sundays, put on some coffee, and proceed to take the State paper apart piece by piece. The rest of my family enjoys it as well. Coupons are clipped, articles are discussed. It’s heaven, particularly for a non-believing, unchurched family like mine that believes that Sunday was created for rest, relaxation, conversation, TV, walks, wine, shopping, talking on the phone–and reading the State paper. Can’t do that so easily ONLINE.
    I know ad revenue is down, but so’s the whole economy. The business model needs to emphasize the experience of reading the paper, rather than information delivery. That’s what we have the internet for.
    But when it comes to local happenings, sports, and all those great coupons, ahh, that’s what we have a physical copy of South Carolina’s State newspaper!

  15. Ish Beverly

    Thomas, the reason I stopped my Subscription to the State was because of the liberal ideology. Maybe I’m the only one to do so for that reason. I did not say I quit reading it, I just quit paying for them to print junk from the likes of Paul Krugman, Bob Herbert, Maureen Dowed, Derick Jackson and others without a balance. I still read the liberal junk, I just don’t pay for it. Until some years ago, if the media did not carry a story, sometimes the public was not aware. Now with Drudge and others, those days are gone. You know, I do not beleive the foreign correspondent for the State ever printed a positive story about the Iraq war. Also, I agree with all the comments made by Lee in the above posts.

  16. Thomas

    I agree with all the comments made by Lee in the above posts.
    You do? That’s odd, because Lee wrote this: “People haven’t just quit buying newspspapers;
    they have quit reading newspapers.” Yet you just said, “I did not say I quit reading it.”
    At any rate, let’s go through this one more time. You said that newspapers are failing because of ideology. What this implies is that people have quit consuming the product because they don’t like the ideology. But in fact, they haven’t quit consuming the product — as you yourself just pointed out. (“I still read the liberal junk”)
    But now I think I see where the problem is: You seem to think newspapers live or die by money from subscriptions. That’s not remotely the case. The vast majority of newspapers’ income is from ADVERTISING. And advertising is based on eyeballs. You are still a set of eyeballs.
    Did you actually think newspapers just threw their content up on the web for free, hoping they’d still get your subscription money because you’re charitable? No. They threw it up there because they assumed they could get big ad dollars. That hasn’t happened, because it has turned out that web advertising doesn’t generate the same sort of return as print advertising.
    You’re really confused by all this stuff, it appears, but it’s actually very simple.

  17. Lee Muller

    It’s simple enough that I could make the newspaper profitable within six months, but some of the editors, writers, and politicians wouldn’t like it one bit.

  18. Thomas

    It’s simple enough that I could make the newspaper profitable within six months, but some of the editors, writers, and politicians wouldn’t like it one bit.
    Well then, you should! Society needs a healthy news industry. If you’ve come up with the magic solution, then you’ve come up with something that no other technology, journalism or publishing expert has yet managed to do. You could greatly benefit society AND make yourself rich in the process.
    Seriously, I’m not kidding — if you know how to make a profitable newspaper, why aren’t you out there opening a newspaper?
    Or start a consulting practice and help save the ones we’ve got. Newspapers of all stripes would appreciate it, I’m sure. The Rocky Mountain News, a conservative paper, had to shut down just last week. The San Francisco Chronicle, a liberal paper, is on the brink. So why not get out there and help them while helping all of us readers at the same time?

  19. RyanB

    Hello fellow members<a href=>,</a> I wanted to introduce myself. I<a href=>'</a>m Kenneth.
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