17 January 2010


When I was a kid I loved going to a newsstand in Times Square that used to carry all of the out-of-town newspapers, which I would collect with an insatiable curiosity about other places and information sources. If you named a city I could tell you the names of its newspapers. Many are sadly long gone and more are on their way out.

There has been much handwringing about the demise of newspapers, especially by liberals as most papers reflect their views, but this should be of some concern to conservatives as well. The Internet and cable news along with things like Craig’s List, which has decimated the local ad market paper depend on, have eaten away at the newspaper audience. If it weren’t for supermarkets and department stores most would be toast as circulation drops and advertisers migrate to other media. Even the Wall Street Journal, the largest and best paper in the country barely makes a profit. To these other factors I would add the decline of attention span in younger populations. Few have the patience or discipline to read a long newspaper article. I’m a fast reader, but it still takes an hour or so to read through everything in the Journal. Few people have that much time or patience. There are a couple of free newspapers doing fairly well here in NY, because they contain articles that can be easily finished in the course of subway ride. What those who are concerned about the decline of “substantive journalism” are missing is that there isn’t that much of an audience for it.

On the other hand something like the New York Times regularly serves as the new source for much of the other media, which is one of the reasons much of the “mainstream” tends to have a liberal bias. That is why there is so much concern about the possible demise of the Times- it would be the loss of a primary source of news. Having been in their crosshairs at one time I can attest to how the rest of the pack slavishly follows the Times, which definitely has an ideological liberal agenda. Many of us won’t miss the Times for that reason, as much as elites may moan.

The conventional thinking is that failing papers may eventually wind up on the Internet. The problem with that is that thus far the web can only support a skeleton staff, not the cadres of reporters papers currently employ, albeit in decreasing numbers. Some regret the demise of “investigative” journalism and substantive articles, as well as field reporting. Yet there is plenty of that on the Internet, it is just that the power there shifts from single-source newspapers to news aggregators. This at best results in a kind of Wikipedia level of accuracy.

The notion of professional journalism and objective hard news is a relatively recent phenomenon, mostly of the twentieth century. This ideal has hardly been maintained by many of those in the field, but it was at least a theoretical standard. Prior to the last century most newspapers did not even bother claiming objectivity. In fact newspapers actually began as partisan political propaganda organs.. You only have to go back and read some of the scurrilous attacks on the Founding Fathers in the press to realize this. Newspapers were printed with a political objective and from the beginning have had an agenda. That is why even today some papers have the name of a political party on their masthead even if the connection is long gone. So this tells us much about the true origins of newspapers.

So perhaps this is how newspapers can survive- as organs or advocates of political organizations. There is certainly massive amounts of money being donated to political parties so there is no reason why some of it cannot find its way here. That along with wealthy people who can afford to take the loss may be the way out. It may be less than ideal, but its also nothing new.

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