As a public service, we staggered through The New Republic‘s 8,900-word opus about the perilous state of the newspaper industry so you wouldn’t have to. We suppose this ponderous, professorial epic is supposed to put TNR‘s weighty stamp of legitimacy on the crisis. If you buy legendary Chicago Tribune editor Colonel Robert McCormick’s view that the greater newspaper is the one that weighs more, then this is the greatest analysis ever published.
Unfortunately, it isn’t. Lacking much insight that wasn’t stated better in Eric Alterman’s briefer and more readable New Yorker analysis of nearly a year ago, Princeton professor Paul Starr proposes that the demise of major metro dailies is a threat to democracy itself.
This is not a new opinion, although Starr does cite research that supports the idea that communities without active news organization tend to suffer from more government corruption and less accountability.
Two teams of researchers found “a very strong association: the lower the free circulation of newspapers in a country, the higher it stands on the corruption index. Using different measures, they also find a similar relationship across states within the United States: the lower the news circulation, the greater the corruption,” he writes.
This isn’t startling news, but the 2003 and 2006 studies cited lend some factual support to an emotional issue. It’s one of the few bits of new information in the whole sprawling opus.
Starr’s sole original insight is that growing polarity between populations that are “in the know” and those that choose to ignore the news leads to partisanship, which is in turn reflected back by the media.
“The viewers who gave up news for entertainment tended to have little or no attachment to party, while the news junkies tended to be strong partisans–and so the audience for news has become more partisan than it used to be. Cable news programs with a sharp ideological slant have responded to this shift, and perhaps contributed to it,” the author states.
It’s a good point, but we wonder why it takes so long to make it.
Starr concludes that a public funding model is the only likely solution to the news industry’s crisis, an idea that has been pretty thoroughly eviscerated by people with spreadsheets. He observes, correctly, that the critical public service that newspapers have traditionally delivered as a loss leader thanks to their enormous profitability is probably lost forever. He’s right that the efficiency of the Internet is not always a good thing, but he gives only scant attention to the new models that are succeeding while casually discarding wonders like Wikipedia as a mere rehash of information reported by journalists. How myopic.
TNR also thumbs its nose at emerging media outlets by failing to provide a single hyperlink in its nine-screen report. Perhaps this was merely oversight or a shortcoming of technology, but the omission appears to say, “Screw you, Internet. Here’s the self-contained first and last word on the topic, which is how God intended journalism to work.” Hyperlinking is an essential value of online communications and the failure to give readers the means to educate themselves about anything that wasn’t touched by New Republic editors appears clueless at best and arrogant at worst.
This entry was posted on Monday, March 2nd, 2009 at 1:18 pm and is filed under BusinessModel, Citizen Journalism, Future of Journalism, Journalism, NewMedia, Newspapers, Solutions. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.