Thank you to Spike Spiegle for accepting this topical and important debate subject, and the ATS Debate Forum for hosting.
Professional Journalism, the field of expertise that has brought down tyrants, conspiracists and king-makers of the past, has been supplanted, as it
should be, by citizen journalism, online bloggers and social media. For purposes of this debate, I will break my arguments down into the various
professional journalistic outlets, beginning with the original -- print.
When I was a graduate student, I took a minor in history and one semester, my required course in that department was a research project that consisted
of reading every newspaper published in a certain geographic region during the 1880s. For months, I dutifully went to the campus library every
afternoon and read microfilms of these seemingly ancient documents.
If you have the opportunity to do the same (on a more limited basis, it did get tiring after a bit, lol,) I recommend it -- it is a very enlightening
experience to view the world as those ancestors did. Without the benefit of any sort of instant communication, these newspapers dealt with national
and international issues with a sort of detached prose, supplemented by the local mundanities of who committed suicide that week over a lost love
(surprisingly common) and whether Mabel Johnson served maple bars or sugar cookies to her callers that week.
The weekly (or, if one lived in a large city, daily,) newspaper was the only means that one had to know anything about current affairs, so it was
taken rather seriously. This continued, unabated, until the 1980s, when a number of technical innovations began to signal the end of the printed
When I was a kid, growing up in a suburb of the Twin Cities, there was a veritable pile of newspapers at my disposal. The Minneapolis Star
afternoon paper, the Minneapolis Tribune
, a morning paper. St. Paul, a few miles away, offered the morning Dispatch
, and there was also the weekly Bloomington Sun
Over the years, those dwindled to the Minneapolis Star Tribune
and whatever they call their consolidated paper
over in St. Paul. I subscribe to the Star-Trib weekend edition because the weekly coupons generally cover the cost of the paper, though I have to
admit that I rarely read my copy, because most of the "news" is already old by the time I receive it -- instant access on the Internet or cable news
channels generally trumps ink and paper, particularly when their own website publishes current articles hours before the mass of paper arrives at my
The consolidation that has occurred in the Twin Cities market is not unique, and, in many instances, the result of the decline of interest in
newspapers has resulted in bankruptcy. These papers are a few of those that have ceased circulation since March 2007:
- Tucson Citizen
- Rocky Mountain News (Denver, CO)
- Baltimore Examiner
- Kentucky Post
- Cincinnati Post
- King County Journal (Seattle, WA)
- Union City Register-Times
- Halifax Daily News
- Albuquerque Tribune
- South Idaho Press
- San Juan Star
- Honolulu Advertiser
- Oakland Tribune
- Contra-Costa Times (eastern part of San Francisco Bay, CA)
A complete list of defunct newspapers may be found here
Caution, it is not a short list.
We can also add the news magazines U.S. News and World Report, Life
to the list of abandoned journalistic properties.
So, we can see that the American newspaper is a dying medium, but what is the root of the problem? Money, of course -- there aren't enough coupon
clipping rationalists like myself buying the dead trees proffered up by these media moguls, and their main sources of income, (you never believed it
was subscriptions, did you?) advertising, has been undercut by online aggregators, like google
and alternative mediums,
like Craig's List.
Classified advertising, once the true gravy of newspapers, has been decimated
Without the revenue to pay for journalistic talent, and fewer readers to justify the expense anyway, newspapers have been cutting staff ruthlessly
over the past decade. Conversely, they have attempted to leverage the few resources that they have kept on the payroll, creating paid "news portals"
to raise revenue, but even the online offerings of highly regarded media are failing to monetize and are
giving up the ghost
When I was studying journalism in high school and university, one of the key concepts of ethics that they drilled into our heads was the
between advertising and editorial. Under no circumstances should any
reader ever even entertain the idea that advertisers received better coverage as a result of their advertising -- if a manufacturer had a shoddy
product, but advertised in the paper, you still needed to expose the shoddy product, because, as a journalist, you worked for the public's good, not
the advertiser's. This was so important that it was focused on, over and over -- "The sales guys are going to lean on you to give their clients a
good image, but if it's not deserved, you do NOT comply."
Now, I'd like you to read this bold article, published on forbes.com in October:
Forbes: The Birth of Brand Journalism and Why It's Good for the News Business
. A quick summary: the promotion of journalism that blurs the
lines between content and advertising, intentionally. All that ethics education that we received in the 1970s and 80s? Out the window, because it's
the money that matters.
We can see that it is a simple fact of economics that print journalism is on the decline, and that its closest replacement, online traditional media
like nytimes.com or forbes.com, is not above kicking traditional journalistic ethics to the curb, and going after the almighty buck, even if it means
deceiving the consumer/reader.
Over to Spike for the rebuttal!