A humble theory on the state of newspapers…

…or, One reason daily newspapers are in the crapper.

You probably already had an idea that newspapers were in bad shape, for whatever reasons. I have been thinking about this for a couple of days. A little background…

You probably already know my real name by now, even if I don’t use it. If you have Googled my name you probably already know that I used to work at a certain small town newspaper in East Texas owned by an Alabama-based national chain, from early ’07 till I came to San Antonio. To give you a little perspective:

As of February 2007, the paper in question had three beat reporters, two sports reporters (one of whom was the sports editor), a copy editor/page designer, an editor, and a publisher. All of the hourly personnel worked full-time, and the paper printed seven days a week.

As of Thursday, this same paper had two beat reporters (one of whom I am thinking doubled as the copy editor/page designer), one sports reporter (who was also the sports editor), and an editor (who covered various beats here and there). The publisher’s job had long since been eliminated, with the publisher of one of the sister papers taking over that duty for both papers — and as of yesterday, the editor position was eliminated. And the newspaper in question only prints two days a week now. The cherry on top of all this? Since the first quarter of 2009, everyone in the company has had to take five unpaid days off per quarter, which basically amounts to a month of unpaid vacation every year. So, as you see, slashing hours and downsizing has been the name of the game for a good while now. And this particular paper isn’t the only one.

All of this brings me to a certain column from Stephen Dick of the Anderson Herald-Bulletin, whose rantings I (am ashamed to admit) I besmirched the op-ed page with here and there at the behest of the editor. I was curious to see what he had to say after the Sandy Hook shootings, and sweet zombie jeebus, did he deliver:

…let’s go after the NRA. Since the underlying philosophy of the leadership of this group is to have weapons to use against an encroaching government, let’s make the leap and begin investigating NRA leaders for conspiracy to commit treason. Or link them to terrorist acts, which is what Sandy Hook was.

How special. Now, granted, he did specify NRA leaders as the targets of his witch hunt…but who does he think pays the salaries of the NRA leadership? Why, the five million members of the NRA, of course. I don’t think it would be the slightest bit paranoid of the good folks in Anderson, Indiana (and everywhere else this column ran) who are NRA members to read that and think, “Holy shit, this guy’s more or less advocating that I be investigated by the government, thrown in jail and maybe even executed for standing up for my rights.”

How does this sort of thing factor into newspaper staffs being slashed? Well, let’s put it like this: if some newspaper hack wanted to see you imprisoned or executed for political advocacy he didn’t agree with, would you take that, let alone pay for the privilege? I sure as hell wouldn’t. If I were a small business owner in a town in whose newspaper this column ran, I would have been on the phone to cancel my advertising so fast it’d make the heads of everyone in the building spin, not just the ad reps. And of course I’d have cancelled my subscription if I’d been a subscriber.

And believe me, that’s far from the only odious thing Mr. Dick has written. From what I’ve seen, it’s just a steady deluge of bullshit as far back as I can remember. And he’s far from the only one. Such bullshit has run in every newspaper in the country at one time or another, from hundreds if not thousands of different names. People don’t want to read that shit. They don’t want to pay for the privilege of having their beliefs and intelligence mocked by self-righteous assholes who think they know better than everyone else. Now that the newspapers aren’t the only game in town anymore, they’re not doing it, as evidenced by the sorry state newspapers are in anymore.

And yeah, a lot of good people are losing their livelihoods, but when I see things like what Mr. Dick wrote, it makes me think, “it couldn’t be happening to a more deserving bunch of assholes.”


8 Responses to “A humble theory on the state of newspapers…”

  1. Sabra Morse Onstott Says:

    No surprise, but I don’t agree with you. 😉 We’ve had this discussion before. My opinion on the reason newspapers are failing remains the same: they have chosen to not do the two things they can and should do better than any other news source: they are not covering local news, and they are not doing in-depth reporting.

    I prefer newspapers for my news because the format allows them to go into greater detail than TV news programs. If they went into greater detail with local news, and delivered it in a timelier fashion (something they should have the ability to do–if my memory serves at least some newspapers published twice-daily editions in the past), they would not be suffering the way they are.

    And then there’s the lack of investigative reporting. Far from angering their advertisers left and right with liberal screed on the Op-Ed pages (if your hypothesis held true, newspapers in liberal areas would be thriving rather than failing right along with the rest of them, by the way), newspapers are in terror of doing anything that might alienate their advertisers and backers. This is why, locally, it falls to the Current to investigate anything thoroughly. If the Express had broken the story of the former Bexar County Democratic Party chairman’s racist and homophobic leanings, who the hell would their local columnists go to work for?

  2. Sabra Morse Onstott Says:

    Also, quit calling your hypothesis a theory; it has hardly been tested and found to withstand heavy scrutiny. :p

  3. Les Says:

    Our local paper covers the local news just fine, unless it involves things that are dicey in the political correctness area. For example, when blacks from Houston came down and essentially mobbed and tore up much along their path to the beach, in the local paper, crickets, as they say. This was a new group of blacks coming down in response to Galveston not allowing drinking on the beach. The regular visitors, including large numbers of black families coming down seldom caused problems. This went on for several back to back holiday weekends with a large state, county and municipal response, then gradually tapered off. The Houston Chronicle noted it in one brief news article commenting on “Tourists” causing problems for our area. In the local newspaper, nothing. It was a non-event.
    The editorial pages reflect a pretty much liberal viewpoint with editorial cartoons from the eternally sophomoric Rogers of Pittsburgh.
    Since the reporting was selective and the editorials pro-liberal I couldn’t see my money going to them.
    But it was the only game in town as far as local news is concerned, and while you don’t know what is missing, the stories that are reported on are very well done, with meticulous followup. So I renewed my subscription.
    I stopped my subscription to the Chronicle (which I had read since childhood) because of the incredible liberal editorial slant, although some of the local reporting was very accurate, because I just didn’t want my money going to support liberal propaganda. The old and venerable Houston Press is hetero-phobic nowadays, so it is a non-contender for news outside of Montrose.

  4. tooldtowork Says:

    There’s a few reasons that the papers are failing. Liberal slant is one of them. I know a lot of people who have quit subscribing to the big local paper because of it’s anti patriotic, anti religion, Obama boot licking coverage.

    Look at their coverage of any big news story and the liberal/progressive/statist slant is easy to spot.

    Not that TV news is much better.

    TV didn’t kill the newspapers, but the Internet probably will. It’s easy to get unfiltered news on the Internet. It’s also faster. The paper edition of the local news paper is at least 24 hours behind the news cycle. The on line versions are running into the territory of TV and TV does it better.

    As to Mr. Dick, it’s not only his name, it’s what he is. 😉

  5. asm826 Says:

    Hey Sabra, check the synonyms in the 2nd meaning of the word theory and ease up a touch.
    [thee-uh-ree, theer-ee]
    noun, plural the·o·ries.
    a coherent group of tested general propositions, commonly regarded as correct, that can be used as principles of explanation and prediction for a class of phenomena: Einstein’s theory of relativity. Synonyms: principle, law, doctrine.
    a proposed explanation whose status is still conjectural and subject to experimentation, in contrast to well-established propositions that are regarded as reporting matters of actual fact. Synonyms: idea, notion, hypothesis, postulate.

  6. kishnevi Says:

    1) As tooldtowork indicates, who needs a newspaper if you’ve got the Internet? Why get a newspaper a day after you get the same AP story off of YahooNews? And that’s not counting blogs and independent sites that give nonAP perspectives, IYKWIMAITYD.

    2) Local news coverage is shoddy and beholden to local politicians, but it was that way when I was a teenager and began noticing such things back in the 70s.

    3) The beach non reporting is not necessarily political correctness. It’s just as likely to be Chamber of Commerce correctness–don’t want to let people think there’s any problem with the tourist areas, or they’ll look for someplace else to visit.

    4)Used to buy the Sunday paper, mainly for the TV guide and the coupons. They booted the TV guide to Saturdays, and raised the price. Realized I don’t watch TV that much, so I kept buying the paper for the coupons, until they raised the price again, and I realized I wasn’t cutting enough coupons to reimburse myself for the price of the paper. So I stopped buying, and the only papers I read now are whatever happens to be left in the lunchroom by fellow employees. But the reason I stopped reading papers was not poltical slant–the reason was that the content was totally devoid of any intelligent information, even when political agendas were not involved.

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