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Why Are Newspapers Dying?

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Message Pam Miles

Dying newspapers are not the result of a failure of journalism or a casualty of the Internet. The collapse of newspapers around the country is the direct outcome of the narrow vision of the big conglomerates and stock holders who own most of our nation's print publications.

Even in the Internet age, newspapers are profitable. Over the last decade, newspapers have posted profits of 10 to 20 percent--even as recently as last year. While the economic decline is hitting all sectors of our economy, newspapers have fared no worse in earnings than other industries and yet are seeing huge cuts in staff and are even being shut down.

The reason for this jump-ship mentality is that newspapers' corporate owners, accustomed to increasing profit margins, refuse to stick with papers no longer making a 10 to 20 percent profit. Big Media conglomerates would rather make huge cuts to keep that profit margin, or close the paper and cut the costs altogether, than provide the necessary resources to keep a vibrant, functioning paper running.

Newspaper owners' allegiance is to the corporate bottom line, not the readers' interest, not cities that depend on the paper as a source of community news, and not our democracy that depends on a robust press.

The viral video of the closing of The Rocky Mountain News (or "The Rocky,") just days before its 150th anniversary exemplified the priorities of these big conglomerates:

"They don't have to do this, everybody knows the arithmetic.  We get the annual reports; several parts of their company [E.W. Scripps Co.] are doing very well.  The Rocky [Mountain News] had a tough year, they decided to walk away. Basically my feeling is, they quit on us, they quit on everyone in the newsroom." --3:02 Jeff Legwold - Broncos Writer

This follows a trend in the newspaper industry worldwide. This past week, the staff at the Financial Times threatened to strike in the face of more layoffs.

Despite an 11 percent rise in profits over 2008, the company that owns the Financial Times is cutting 80 jobs, including 20 reporting positions.

The irony shouldn't be lost on us: The quality journalism and in-depth coverage--the competitive advantage that makes a paper profitable in these hard economic times--is being cut for short-sighted economic gain.

It is no surprise that a steady decline in newspaper readership has coincided with unchecked consolidation. We can't blame a shifting audience on young people who prefer reading on computers, or on the Internet giving content away for free. Rather, newspapers are putting out a poorer product as their owners focus on profit rather than producing a quality product.

While newspaper owners may be saving money, the newspaper cuts are costing the public. Newsrooms have been gutted, foreign bureaus have all but disappeared and even covering Washington, D.C. is no longer within the budget for most dailies. Content is focused on sensationalism, crime, and celebrity gossip. Even political reporting is often  focused on the celebrity of politicians and pundits, rather than an exploration of the issues that most affect the public.

Posted March 11th, 2009 by Jordan Berg

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Democratic Activist and Strategist, doing most activist work thru a nationwide email listserv, referred to as "Pam's List". Elected member of the Alabama State Democratic Executive Committee as well as a member of my county, (Madison) Democratic (more...)
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