The status of newspapers as essential utilities gets a boost in a narrow-minded NPR report entitled “Imagining A City Without Its Daily Newspaper.” Reporter David Folkenflik takes us to Hartford, Conn., a typical small American city whose daily newspaper is doing as badly as every other typical small city daily newspaper. What would happen, Folkenflik speculates, if the Hartford Courant ceased to be?
In a word: disaster. “[F]ormer Gov. John Rowland wouldn’t have faced corruption charges a few years back,” Folkenflik suggests. Nor is it likely that Hartford’s mayor would have been indicted on bribery charges recently. “The Courant was out ahead on that, too. The paper has exposed polluters and the deployment of mentally ill soldiers to Iraq.” And that’s not even considering its kinder, gentler side. What would local theatre companies do without the vital reviews in the newspaper?
Our guess is that they’d think of something. What makes the NPR report such rubbish is that it fails to consider the possibility that other sources of information could emerge to fill the coverage gaps the story describes. The piece even quotes Trinity College President James F. Jones Jr. furthering the myth that only newspapers can cover local news. “The New York Times is not going to write about the local basketball teams or the local color stories,” the perfesser says. True, but have you considered that maybe somebody else will?
The all-or-nothing scenario outlined in this report is fundamentally flawed. It’s surprising that the usually thorough NPR editors would let such a myopic analysis go through. Maybe the layoffs there are having an impact.
For a contrasting view, consider a post by Dana Blankenhorn that challenges the evolving wisdom in some parts of the industry that newspaper publishers need public support in order to continue providing their vital public service.
Invoking National Lampoon‘s famous “If You Don’t Buy This Magazine, We’ll Kill This Dog” cover, the blogger dares publishers to follow through on threats to maroon readers without their government watchdogs. “Please do it. Please, please, please… I would gladly go into business against you, giving people access to local government…There are literally thousands of entrepreneurs…anxious to do the same,” he writes. Conventional wisdom is that you have to pay people a salary to cover city council meetings, but maybe there are those who would do it because, you know, they like hanging around city council meetings.
This entry was posted on Friday, February 6th, 2009 at 5:47 pm and is filed under Future of Journalism, Journalism, NewMedia. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.