The newspaper – – goodbye and good riddance

June 2nd, 2009 by Ken

(A reader of this page, knowing my fascination with newspapers, sent me the following letter.   I print it here only to give a different point of view.)

Over the past year there’s been a cacophony of wailing over the demise of the American newspaper.  As more and more papers go the route of the Wooly Mammoth, media pundits wring their hands and mouth platitudes about how we need a “watchdog” press and how we need journalists to keep politicians and bureaucrats “in check.”

Well, shut my mouth, but I respectfully disagree.   I regret the demise of these out-dated, lazy, patronizing, predictable, money-grubbing, self-congratulating monopolies about as much as I regret the loss of an abscessed tooth.  Let me explain.

 I wouldn’t be the first to point out that newspapers have long enjoyed de facto monopoly status.  (How long has it been since we’ve seen newspapers duke it out for scoops such as those depicted in the play “Front Page?”  For over a half a century now and counting.)

However, I may be among those very few to point out that they’ve enjoyed at least two monopolies for all of these years.  First, they had a monopoly on the distribution of newspapers, from the lowly delivery boy or girl, right on up to the executive suite.  This was an elaborate, costly and environmentally unfriendly system that shipped a manufactured product(the newspaper and its advertising inserts) to stores, news stands and homes in a given geographic area.

This elaborate distribution system was a closed shop.

In otherwords, if an entrepreneur wanted to start a competing paper, could he or she pay the dominate newspaper to deliver it?  Hardly, yet that’s the way it works in Great Britain, a land in which lively, thoughtful, entertaining, i.e. competitive journalsim, thrived for all of these years while American papers slid into their mire of irrelevance.

Could our entrepreneur hire the local newspaper’s printing plant to print its paper?  Nope.  The newspaper’s response to any such threat was to nip it in the bud using any means necessary to keep any and all competition out of its city.  Period.

Of course we all know that the US Constitution protects freedom of the press, but I have serious doubts as to whether its framers ever contemplated protecting vertically integrated monopolies such as that of the news organizations that staked a claim to all of our metropolitan regions.

Then there’s the newsroom.  For countless years, editors and reporters have lived an exalted life of prestige and influence, afforded them by the production and distribution monopolies that fed and clothed them.

For all practical purposes this created a news monopoly that grew and prospered alongside of their other monopolies.  After all, it wasn’t news unless it was in the news paper.  And it wasn’t considered to be relevant news or opinion unless it fit their idelology, reflected in their editorial positions.  (Don’t you love their pontifications about such things as the need to cut back on carbon emissions while turning a blind eye to their corporate involvement in the rape of the northern forests to turn trees into pulp for newsprint, its transportation to distant, energy hungry printing presses, the fleet of trucks need to distribute their product and . . . well, you get the picture.)

Like all monopolies, the vigor of this beast gradually slowed down.  In fact, it’s hard to even find a pulse today.

As a former columnist of the late Seattle Post-Intelligencer recently remarked:  “Working for a daily newspaper was like working for the utility company.  You went to work every day and thought it would be that way forever.”

Unfortunately, the output of this utility was about as exciting as watching paint dry.  The “news” was predictable, boring and all too often consisted of cursory re-writes of government or public relation firms’ press releases. 

This indolence also resulted in something deleterious to the health and vigor of the communities these newspapers “served” . . . a perception of the world framed by an elite few, the progeny of communications professors, the “professional” journalist (a term that would be ridiculed by the old-timers who had to fight, claw and cajole for stories) professing objectivity, while reviewing the world from the far left fringes of the political spectrum.

It’s almost as if these “journalists” had never had even a fleeting acquaintance with the world most of us have to live in.  (This is demonstrably true of the editorial page editors, who’ve never seen a conservative they liked or a tax hike they disliked.)

So, what’s to lament about the demise of this monopolistic business model, the underpinning of which, its complex and environmentally destructive distribution system, has been rendered obsolete by the far more convenient, inexpensive and egalatarian internet?

Are we to mourn the money flowing out of our community coffers to financial centers in Chicago, DC, New York or elsewhere?  Are we to mourn the detached and sloppy reporting of third-rate robo-journalists?  Are we to mourn the out-sized carbon footprint by their out-dated industrial practices?

No, I don’t think too many tears will be shed for newspapers that, over the course of the next few years, will be falling like dominoes from coast to coast.  In fact, a large segment of the population, those under 30, will scarcely hear the sounds of the dominoes as they fall, for they already see newspapers for what they are (if indeed they see them at all) . . relics of a bygone era. 

No, it’s not likely that too many tears will be shed.

In fact, I think too many of us are looking at the wrong side of this issue.  I believe we should be celebrating the collapse of these monopolies and their monolithic world views, views dictated by a few, elite media centers in decaying megalopolises.

Perhaps now, we’ll have a resurgence of citizens who actually think for themselves without “guidance” from a few self-proclaimed, self-congratulatory journalists, who stopped thinking for themselves about the same time they received their diplomas from humorless, politically-correct institutions of higher learning.

Don’t worry though, the news won’t go away.  We’ll still have plenty of people who’ll tell us what’s going on, especially what’s going on locally.  And those who care about such things ( i.e. those who actually read the local news  in the newspapers) can act as reporters on their own, using sources such as the internet, local cable channels and various blogs.  The news won’t go away.  It’ll  just come to us in different ways, with greater zest and variety.

The post newspaper world will place greater demands on citizens to think for themselves. 

The news will be freed from the constraints of editors, who block stories , or bury them for fear of offending corporate interests, large advertisers, powerful off-the-record sources or political beliefs.

It will be freed from the prohibitive capital demands of presses and distribution systems.  It will cause far less damage to the environment.  It will be reported by those who may lack a formal “communications degree” but who are driven by something far more valuable . . . curiosity.   A genuine curiosity that comples them  to ferret-out the truth no matter where it may lead, and to proclaim that truth for all of the world to hear.

After all, isn’t that what the real news is all about?  And won’t that be grand?

(Editors note:  I want to hear from all of you journalists who read this page.  Call me, e mail me or talk to me in person.  I would love to present your opinion to the readers of  The Real News.)

Posted in Business, History, Informational, The Real News

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