If textbook fights, school curricula litigation and constant internet sniping got you thinking the clash between science and religion is a tough problem to work on, you should look at the clash between news gathering organizations and their financiers who argue that economics says news should be dead.
Not all should be doom and gloom in the news biz. Tim J. McGuire, dean of the Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University, argues that the delivery of the news still needs newspapers, and that newspaper economics show that profits can be produced by good, mainstream news outlets: “Writing off newspapers is premature, irresponsible.”
McGuire doesn’t ignore the bad news:
The circulation declines are undeniable. Some metropolitan newspapers have lost 10 percent of their circulation in the past three years. Classified revenues at some big newspapers are off by $50 million to $100 million in the same period. Layoffs and news-hole reductions are breathtaking. Short-sighted corporations are trying to cut their way to better profit margins.
He points to a different view:
There is a temptation to view all this as just one more 21st-century reality that does not affect us until we consider the last month of news coverage. The bizarre wall-to-wall coverage of Anna Nicole Smith and Britney Spears may be the “canary in the coal mine” for what weaker newspapers might mean for society.
If you are disgusted about the obsession with Anna Nicole and Britney, reflect for a minute on how much coverage of those two stories you saw in The Arizona Republic, the East Valley Tribune and the New York Times. The answer is not much.
No matter how much you enjoy beating up the print media, and no matter how many times the newspaper industry shoots itself in the foot with plagiarism, fabrication and conflict-of-interest scandals, for the past 50 years, American newspapers have been our newsgathering stalwarts.
It is newspapers that uncover scandals like the one at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. It is newspapers that have been out front on social change, repeatedly holding government accountable and attempting to avoid celebrity obsession.
McGuire’s piece was published in the Arizona Republic, one of the more conservative newspapers in a sea of conservative newspapers. That alone is an interesting comment on the value of newspapers in bringing opinion and news from differing viewpoints. For all its conservatism, the Republic is also home to Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Steve Benson, who has made quite a journey, opinion-wise, from his short stint on the staff of Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch. [For political cartoons to use in the classroom, check the NIE online site for cartooning.]
Bloggers complain about the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal, to name a few. Alternative media, including bloggers, have pitifully few people on the ground where news is made, reporting the events, however. For news of Iraq, Iran, India, China, Europe, detailed market results, sporting events, and even gossip, newspapers and their reporters are still the chief sources of news for everybody else.
When news is bad, people don’t like to see the messengers. That doesn’t make the news any less important. Nor should it be the reflection on the messengers some commentators claim it to be.
For all the carping against them, reporters for major newspapers and broadcast networks still broke the stories on Walter Reed Hospital, on the Bush Justice Department shenanigans, on the Halliburton move to Dubai, etc., etc.
You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. But if you’re flying to Chicago or anywhere else, a newspaper will help you to be prepared for the weather tomorrow, for whatever the winds may blow.