Friday, April 17, 2009

It’s time we owned up to the sober facts facing the news industry: first among these is that the very medium that has sustained it and given life to accountability, transparency and community ties among Americans is not only on its way out but is dying quickly.

Some dispatches that were gleaned from today’s issue of the Newspaper of Record:

AbitibiBowater, “the world’s largest newsprint maker,” has filed for bankruptcy; a few pages later we read that Gannett “reported a 60 percent decline in first-quarter profit … and said its advertising was continuing to fall.” The New York Times itself “plans to eliminate several weekly sections” to save rapidly hemorrhaging costs and a similar ad shortfall.

A.O. Scott, their lead film critic, couldn’t help but notice the antiquity of newspapers in the new Crowe-Affleck film “State of Play”:

A breaking, earthshaking story makes its way from computer screen to newsprint. The plates are set, the presses whir, sheaves of freshly printed broadsheet are collated, stacked on pallets and sent out to meet the eyes of the hungry public. Truth has been told, corruption revealed and new oxygen pumped into the civic bloodstream.”

Scott is being sentimental but his point is valid. We’re losing more than pulp here. The question is will the transition, all but inevitable now, to the digital press engender a similar spirit of investigation, truth-seeking and muckraking that the best moments of our print media have seen. The answer has not yet been written.

In the interim, Sen. Cardin (D-Md.) has introduced a bill that would make newspapers tax-exempt entities (link here).

“Our Republic and its press will rise or fall together. An able, disinterested, public-spirited press, with trained intelligence to know the right and courage to do it, can preserve that public virtue without which popular government is a sham and a mockery. A cynical, mercenary, demagogic press will produce in time a people as base as itself. The power to mold the future of the Republic will be in the hands of the journalists of future generations” (Joseph Pulitzer, 1904).

No comments: