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Newspaper Decline Traced To Wide Illiteracy

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One reason for the decline of newspaper circulation is that 42 million Americans are illiterate and roughly 50 million more are semi-literate, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Christopher Hedges says. What's more, he adds, 80 percent of U.S. households last year did not buy a book.

"The rates of illiteracy or semi-literacy---meaning people reading at a fourth or fifth grade level---now comprise one-third of the United States," says Hedges, "and even those who are technically literate opt into a system where they get most of their information through images---images which are of course skillfully manipulated."

Hedges, a former war correspondent for The New York Times, is quoted in "News Media in Crisis,"(Doukathsan) as saying, "With the decline in newspapers and the decline of a literature culture, American society "is essentially walking into a world of moral nihilism, where we no longer embrace values."

Newspaper readership has also fallen off because "we have a large, sustained, well-funded set of people out there who attack honest reporting" and who have created "a belief that the news is not to be trusted," adds David Cay Johnston, like Hedges a former New York Times reporter and Pulitzer Prize winner.

Robert Rosenthal, former editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer and director of the Center for Investigative Reporting, in Berkeley, Calif., said, "I think we all can agree that there is not simply a serious problem, there's a total crisis, and a disintegration certainly of newspapers and media as we've known (them) in our lifetimes."

From a high of 60,000 newsroom reporters, the number of professional journalists has dwindled to about 50,000, and several hundred newspapers have closed their doors, said Benjamin Compaine, of the Innovation International Media Consulting Group and author of the book "Who Owns The Media?"

Newspapers lost 42 percent of their value during the 2006-07 period, added Rick Edmonds, media analyst for the Poynter Institute of St. Petersburg, Fla., "and then 83 per cent of their remaining value in 2008" We have only one publicly traded newspaper company at higher than $5 a share (The Washington Post) right now, which is mainly valued for its Kaplan Education subsidiary."

As for the number of working journalists, Edmonds put the figure this year at 47,000 and predicted "(It's) going to get quite a lot worse (and) is getting worse right now." He said "there (are) drastic reductions in the space allocated to news. Metro papers, which have the worst of it, are in many cases getting rid of their business sections, their freestanding feature display pages. A lot of readers say, 'There's nothing to read in the paper anymore.'"

Hedges said, "What we're seeing is not just the death of newsprint or the death of print, but the rise in corporate hands of essentially the obliteration and destruction of our open society. Virtually everything that we see, read, and hear is now controlled by roughly eight corporations," he said, among them Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., Viacom, General Electric, and Disney. Disney, for example, owns ABC Television Network and ESPN besides Disney Channel and Radio Disney.

"They look at their readers as clients. These readers---like all clients which are being sold products by corporations---have to be made happy. They have to be catered to, and the idea that news will be delivered which makes people unsettled or uncomfortable is an anathema to people whose goals are profit," Hedges said.

Peter Phillips, director of Project Censored, which trains students about defending free press rights, said only five percent of young persons under 30 read a newspaper because "they don't see anything relevant to their lives."

Phillips went on to say that at the Media Reform Conference held in Minneapolis in June, 2008, a survey of 376 persons selected at random were asked their views about media today. "Ninety-nine percent agreed with the statement that corporate media has failed to keep the American people informed on important issues facing the nation. We get almost unanimous agreement on that point."

The book "News Media in Crisis" is based on the conference "Serious Problems Facing The News Media" convened by Dean Lawrence Velvel last March 7-8 at the Massachusetts School of Law at Andover. To obtain copies, contact landers@mslaw.edu.

The Massachusetts School of Law is an independent, non-profit law school purposefully dedicated to the education of minority students and those from low-income and immigrant backgrounds who would otherwise not be able to afford a legal education.

The Massachusetts School of Law at Andover is a 21-year-old law school whose pioneering mission is to inexpensively provide rigorous legal education, a pathway into the legal profession, and social mobility to members of the working class, minorities, people in midlife, and immigrants.

Through its television shows, videotaped conferences, an intellectual magazine, and internet postings, MSL - - uniquely for a law school - - also seeks to provide the public with information about crucial legal and non legal subjects facing the country.

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Sherwood Ross worked as a reporter for the Chicago Daily News and contributed a regular "Workplace" column for Reuters. He has contributed to national magazines and hosted a talk show on WOL, Washington, D.C. In the Sixties he was active as public (more...)
 
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