Wednesday, April 16, 2008

'Extremely gloomy'? That's me!

Craig Henry knows how to pick 'em, including my "extremely gloomy" outlook in his roundup on the future of the newspaper industry. Part of my assessment is that the decline of literacy, rather than liberal bias, is the primary factor in the downward spiral of the industry:
[T]he reason I know that liberal bias is not a sufficient explanation for this decline is the fact that small "hometown" newspapers -- which have never reflected the liberalism that plagues the major metro dailies -- have suffered equally, if not worse, from the decline.
Craig takes issue with my appraisal of liberal bias at "hometown" newspapers, responding:
I’ve lived in a bunch of different places over the years. Some were liberal communities (Madison, Wisconsin) while others were conservative (Carlisle, Charlotte). In every city and town, however, the local paper was and is more liberal than the community it serves. In Madison, the papers were very liberal, here in Carlisle the Sentinel is only a little to the left of center. This is a striking stance, though, in a community that voted for Bush 60/40 in two elections.
I would agree with Craig that in most cases, newspapers are more liberal than the communities they serve. Journalism, as a profession, attracts a lot of liberals -- sic semper hoc.

Good points, but a few points in reply:
  • If the newspaper in Madison is "more liberal than the community it serves," then it must read like a Symbionese Liberation Army manifesto.
  • The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer is much larger than the kind of "hometown" paper I meant.
  • The Observer has been part of the Knight-Ridder chain for more than 50 years. The conglomeration of newspapers into chains is a major factor in the loss of connection between newspapers and their communities. Editors and reporters are shifted around within the chain, and so you see journalists with what you'd call a "transcontinental" resume, where they've worked at newspapers in Pennsylvania, Texas, Iowa, Tennessee, Arizona, etc. As a result, you get a sort of bland, standardized product -- the McDonaldization of newspapers.
The worst offender in this regard among newspaper chains is Gannett, which is an intensely top-down operation where all the basic guidelines are dictated from the central command. The "Local Gannett Paper" (LGP) has become the sick joke of American journalism -- a thin, weak gruel of blandness.

The LGP is the newspaper equivalent of a mayonnaise-on-Wonderbread sandwich. But there's one twist: Gannett corporate guidelines include a sort of mandatory PC "diversity" quota, so that reporters are expected to quote a certain number of sources who are female or minority.

This LGP quota system is notorious within the newspaper industry, because it yields such laughable results in towns without large minority communities. Imagine working as a reporter at a Gannett paper in some town in Nebraska or Maine and trying to find Hispanic or Asian-American sources to quote in a story about the county commission's plans to install a traffic light at the intersection of Church Street and Highway 301. It's absurd.

I've got 22 years in the newspaper industry, but I'd dig ditches before I'd ever work for Gannett.

Being in job-search mode right now -- with a family of eight, I've got to have a full-time gig with benefits to support my freelancing/book-writing/blogging habits -- I'm keenly aware of the difficulties facing the newspaper business, so my expression of interest in the ditch-digging industry is not just empty hyperbole. Nobody cares about the politics of a man with a shovel in his hands.


  1. Well, the Madison papers did sound alot like that SLA fugitive they caught in the Twin Cities.

  2. Nowadays print media is following new technologies in circulations as the online readership rate is increasing rapidly all over the world. Most of the publishers are already using the web to circulate their publication in order to increase their revenue and giving the competition to the rising broadcast media. Companies like helping publishers to circulate their publications through new distributions technologies like web, social media, blogs, pod cast, mobiles, RSS, etc... Circualtions through the above mediums will work well!