Save the Newspapers? Why?

October 22, 2009 - 9:48 AM
There might have been a time when readers believed that newspapers attempted at least a semblance of objectivity, roughly around the time when the Hula Hoop and those new-fangled television sets first came into vogue, but that era has gone the way of the dodo.
Having worked in, on, and around newspapers for over two decades, I can say with some authority that the vast majority of reporters, editors, and publishers are about as sharp as a pound of wet leather. The general consensus amongst their fraternity is, quite simply, that readers are too addle-brained to know what is good for them.
 
The conventional wisdom within the hallowed swamps of journalism is that your garden variety reader doesn’t know what is important, that they are a wrong-thinking lot who put on their shoes and socks in that order. Journalists, as a rule, feel that the unwashed masses should be force-fed “the truth,” that they require some sort of Kubrickian, Clockwork Orange procedure in order to get their minds right.
 
Of course, readers immediately recognize such hubris as a load of malarkey. Their response is to simply quit reading the newspaper. There might have been a time when readers believed that newspapers attempted at least a semblance of objectivity, roughly around the time when the Hula Hoop and those new-fangled television sets first came into vogue, but that era has gone the way of the dodo.
 
Thus, in the dark days of 2009, newspapers are faced with the reality of staff terminations, lay-offs, falling ad rates, and a massive Diaspora of readers. Other industries, confronting the same challenges, would strive to discover and solve the problem. They would make an attempt to discern what their customers wanted, re-tool, re-group, and seek to do a better job.
 
But, that’s just not how life works within the uber-arrogant mindset of journalism. You see, to them, plummeting profits are the fault of those pesky, idiot readers. Those members of the trailer-trash club simply won’t listen. They simply don’t care about the single-sided coverage they are provided. Those politically incorrect freaks and geek actually want objectivity, or at the very least, neutrality.
 
Such being the case, newspaper owners have but one recourse. They seek a government bailout.
 
According to a paper commissioned by the Columbia University Journalism School and Columbia professor Michael Schudson (co-authored by former Washington Post Executive Editor Len Downie), the print media deserves federal assistance. They believe that the government, publicly funded universities, and private, philanthropic organizations should step in to save journalism.
 
I don’t quite get this. With a few notable exceptions, what is there to save? For most businesses (the car and banking industry notwithstanding, as they have already been nationalized) an enterprise which refuses to provide customers with the product they seek is allowed to die an appropriate death. If you decide to open a butcher shop in the middle of Calcutta , and advertise beef briskets from sacred cows, you pretty much deserve what you get.
 
However, the traditional journalism industry believes it is a cut above. They assume their customer base is nothing but a collection of one-toothed peons and web-footed miscreants who are barely able to get through the day without soiling themselves. In their minds, newspapers should receive a dispensation from failure because they are providing an invaluable public service.
 
In other words, journalists feel it is their sworn duty to save the tongue-chewers from themselves.
 
The grand Pooh-Bahs of journalism are asking for breaks in the tax codes that will allow local newspapers to function as non-profit groups. This is not to be confused as the sort of non-profit groups that lose money every quarter because they provide a crummy product, for newspapers have already gotten that one down pat. The status they prefer is non-profit in the sense that taxpayers bend over, smile, and fund the paper’s losses. They also hope to be given fees from telecom organizations and Internet providers in the form of grants, which would allow them to continue to function as little but the government hacks and public relations shills that they already are.
 
Really, should the dream of the newspaper owners come to fruition, things won’t be all that different from now. Their coverage will still parrot the every whim of the White House. They will still offer coverage that embellishes but one side of an issue, and either utterly ignores or totally denigrates the other. Their readership will continue to fall, and their coffers will be as empty as a pauper’s pocket.
 
There would be one difference. At present, you can simply refuse to by a newspaper that you detest. But if the power brokers of journalism get their way, you’ll be ponying up cash every week.
 
(Ron Marr is the editor/publisher/& janitor of Troutwrapper.com, an on-line, weekly newspaper dedicated to hunting down and publicly tormenting the humor impaired.)