Get any group of journalists together, and you’re likely to hear a lot of belly-aching about the end of news.
Newspapers, we so often tell each other, are an endangered species with a shrinking habitat and no good source of protein. I mean, what about the aging readers? What about the… gulp… Internet? Clearly, newspapers are finished.
Don’t get me wrong. I know that newspapers are in financial trouble, but news corporations are stuck in a whirlwind of their own making. Newspapers and media companies haven’t been swept up by some freakish storm. News isn’t the victim of some unrelenting force of nature.
Every day, good journalists all across this great country—and I would contend that almost no field in America has such a depth of talent and professionalism as journalism—witness the slow erosion of the quality and integrity of the news organization that employs them. Each ding is small. Each new affront seems minor. Maybe the coverage of your state legislature gets cut back, or two old jobs get combined into one. Or what was once a flagship beat gets rolled into the beat of an already over-worked reporter.
Does this sound familiar?
And as the staff has shrunk, so the quality has always… sometimes slightly… declined. Fewer copy editors. Fewer designers. Oh, you’ve heard your editor, defensive, insisting that the paper will always be committed to the highest quality of… whatever kind of reporting has just been hamstrung.
That… and nothing else… pushes news organizations toward the brink. When I was a journalism student, one of the best young reporters in my class said, “We trade in our word,” and I knew when I heard it that, as a journalist, “my word” was my franchise. If I respected it. Grew it. Protected it. Developed it. Then I’d be all right.
And the same is true of the entire world of media. We trade in our word. When we erode our word, we erode our value. And without our value, well, we’re worthless.
And no amount of cost-cutting can prop up the value of a product in consistent decline. That’s just common sense. But don’t take my word for it. Here’s a study about how fewer people trust news organizations.
Check this out. Here’s a story on “This American Life” about the outsourcing of local reporting.
Here’s another study about how advertising dollars continue to rise, but the short-sighted knuckleheads who run newspapers aren’t capturing much of that revenue.
And here’s a story about how Gannett cut costs aggressively to make its papers more “competitive,” and then turned around and gave those millions in savings to its top executives in bonuses.