Web Letters | The Nation

Web Letter

While it easy to blame others for our failures, to say the Internet is to blame for the demise of the liberally socialist newspapers mentioned in this story is only partly accurate. The main reason for their failure is due to the fact most people don't want to read their liberally biased and slanted views and opinions. Even the St. Louis Post-Disgrace, which has no competition, is barely surviving. And this is in a town where a huge percentage of people are Democrats. What that says is they have nothing to offer and people are tired of the same old message.

They need to get a clue and offer something people want. A perfect example: these papers try to charge anywhere from $1,000 to $2,000 dollars for a four-sentence employment ad when internet sites charge $150. They also might want to consider conservative journalists, since they write what people want to read.

Steve Snelson

Dublin, OH

Apr 14 2009 - 9:21am

Web Letter

The impending doom and demise of newspaper journalism is indeed in the tea leaves. Problem is that it woke up to this far too late and is projecting the proverbial blame finger at the wrong people.

Let's recall how newspaper journalism began. It was born on hand-punched typesetters and had a very limited circulation. The quality of the writing and its source are historically questioned. However, newspapers were the talk shows of the day, loaded with what was eventually termed "yellow journalism." Newspapers with a slant were commonplace, but existed, as well, to stir up the common folk and provoke uprisings of one sort or another. Or, unfortunately, to cast evil onto local citizens who possessed different thinking than the majority.

Today is no different. The newspapers are just larger and perform the same task, be it from the right or the left.

Who's been left out, however, are those people who were the dung of society in every way--enslaved blacks, railroad-enslaved Chinese, Mexicans whose country was greatly diminished by this country's policy of taking all the land from coast to coast, and most certainly the indigenous people of this land, who were victims of genocide-bent politicians, military leaders and land-grabbing Europeans.

Fast forward to the 1960s in the United States of America. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) created a relatively unknown but highly controversial decision that was bent to give voice to the voiceless, after Detroit, Newark, DC and Watts burned to the ground--in black, inner-city neighborhoods that were close to Dresden-like architecture before the riots even ever began. And the "strange fruit" hung far too often from Southern oaks while local whites sat on the ground with their picnic lunch, dinner--hell, may even have been breakfast or afternoon tea--while viewing this display of great American pride. Lynching Negroes virtually became a pastime from Indiana over to Maryland and straight on down to the Gulf of Mexico.

As much as this country tried to keep shut the mouths and mute the voices of people of color in this nation, as well as communists, socialists along with trade unions (who were just as racist in many respects), it was determined by the administration of President Lyndon Johnson to take a crowbar and pry open those mouths through the regulation entitled the "Minority Preference Broadcasting Policy Act."

This act provided for the creation of minority-owned broadcasting stations, radio and television, so that, paraphrasing from Justice William Brennan's last decision before his retirement from the bench, those people who have had no opportunities in the past to own and operate broadcasting operations may provide a diversity of views and perspectives. It was indeed in the public's interest to do so.

Meanwhile, magazines like Jet and Ebony provided employment for African-American journalists who were customarily locked out of any other newspaper, magazine or broadcasting station's reporter pool. While the Johnson company was growing ever stronger in its circulation, local newspapers sprouted like beautiful spring flowers in inner cities, even in smaller cities like Madison, Wisconsin. But, even there the press focusing on issues and positive events in the African-American, Latino and Southeast Asian communities are struggling to hold on, just as are local community newspapers in many other cities.

This voice is, once again, being muzzled, but it truly never existed in the mainstream press. Sure there are great editorial writers and reporters of color, but few wander through the maze of desks in the reporter's pool. Frankly, fewer people of color were reading those papers anyway, if Madison's experience is similar to other cities, which I can't believe it isn't. Madison's weekly newspaper, Isthmus, and the daily, the Capital Times, which lingers in the ICU, technically publishes three times a week while relying on their website to keep pace with the technology change in the information and news world. In Madison, the African-American community gains its news primarily from a local community weekly, the Madison Times, and a monthly magazine, UMOJA. The Latino community has La Communidad while the Southeast Asian and Latino communities have a bi-monthly paper, the Capital Hues.

As an op-ed free lance writer for Isthmus, I can tell you that feedback from the white community is plentiful; however, whenever I ask anyone from the communities of color, no feedback is provided, because many people of color in Madison do not read Isthmus or use it mostly for the entertainment sections of the paper.

When President Bill Clinton deregulated the Minority Preference Policy Act from the FCC, and allowed for one company to own both broadcasting and newspaper companies in the same market, that was the beginning of the demise of newspapers as we know it.

Smaller broadcasting stations were eaten up along with smaller town newspapers by the mega-media at the smorgasbord laid willingly for them like gentle antelopes for the lions and vultures to pounce and feed on. It went from one town to the next, then to the next, then to the next unsuspecting newspaper and radio stations, which eventually became mouthpieces for the far right; hence the dominance of the far right since Ronald Reagan became president, with Rush Limbaugh at his side. Today, the GOP is revealing its hand in broad daylight as it toys with have Limbaugh as the voice of the GOP, on the radio, television, Internet and in the party itself.

Ruppert Murdock, Times-Warner, Disney and GE are ripping apart the newspaper industry until there is no more except lots of money to fill their greedy little pockets. Whatever news technology lingers in the future, you can bet the mega-media giants will be circling around it like vultures and go in for the kill when ready, like lions.

Now, for the voiceless in major broadcasting and multi-market newspapers, they are relegated once again to the local community weeklies. And, in some way, that's not a bad place to be, unless they go down too, as it's feared for Madison's UMOJA. That magazine and the weeklies are published by the sweat and blood of volunteers and owners who expect to take a loss every year. But it matters more to speak out loudly in those publications than to be silenced by the dailies, who are getting their just deserved.

The Black Journalist Association has screamed continuously in its own professional manner on how people of color are few and far between in mainstream media companies. Now, turn your face and look into another direction. Don't just talk the talk or write the talk, walk the talk and be the progressive journalists you portray to be. The Progressive will soon celebrate its 100th birthday by throwing a big party comprised of a Who's Who list of leftist journalists. When I saw the list, no one of color was on the promoted list. If there is someone, then it's just the one and they didn't even make it to the front page of the promotional material. Otherwise, The Progressive is talking to its own belly button. And, that's where the left-leaning press usually is.

Steve Braunginn

Madison, WI

Apr 13 2009 - 11:01am

Web Letter

If the print media in America were truly independent, I'd agree with the authors that they might be considered for government assistance. But they aren't and haven't been since at least when that smarmy hypocrite Woodrow Wilson cast his evil pall across the pages of American history by forming an antiunion, prowar cabal with press barons and greedy tycoons nearly a hundred years ago.

Since, the norm is that the dictates of big business and the government it owns are to accepted and publicized without question. Sure, there are a few minor exceptions, but not enough to excuse the print industry. Let the presses stop and the papers go into the ashcan of history. They deserve no better, and at least we'll be free of at least one source of irritating propaganda.

Sam Thornton

Burwell, Netherlands Antilles

Apr 10 2009 - 7:49pm

Web Letter

We've heard the Chicken Littles, running in circles, warning that the sky is falling. The demise of the Great American Newspaper is, with rare exception, blamed on everything except newspapers themselves.

Newspapers began their decline into irrelevance in the 1980s. The mantra at the time was that people were tired of all the negative news, and wanted to hear only the good news, the "talk up America" news. It's morning in America, and we want to dwell on how great we are!

President Reagan, a mediocre president as best, was "sold" as the new Superman. It was all so simple then... Poverty became a mere "lifestyle choice," our militarism was actually a campaign to bring freedom to the world, etc. In other words, newspapers began to teach us what to think, and let us know that if we thought differently, there was something wrong with us.

Newspapers rapidly deteriorated into becoming mere corporate/government spokemen. The most vital issues, from foreign to domestic policy, if addressed at all, were addressed within strict pro-business guidelines. We learned that selfishness is good, compassion is "namby-pamby," that low wages enrich everyone and workers' rights harm everyone, that the rich are over-burdened and that America's poor aren't poor at all.

In short, they lost touch with reality, with the everyday world in which we live.

Then came the cost-cutting bottom line. Investigative reporting was replaced with fluff and editorial opinion. News was replaced with pages of ads, recipes, fashion. By 1995, you could determine what was in any day's newspaper--and the perspective from which the issue was covered--before you opened up the first page.

Newspapers became irrelevant. As they saw their sales fall, they tried to blame everyone and everything except themselves, from the Internet to American ignorance.

If one approach fails, logic would tell you to try a different approach. If they want to get subscribers, they've got to learn just who the people are, and what they are concerned about. Rather than trying to influence mass opinion, they have to learn to listen and reflect what is actually relevant to ordinary people.

They must actually make the effort to regain relevance.

Diane H. Fabian

Fort Atkinson, WI

Apr 9 2009 - 8:48am

Web Letter

If "newspapers can't die fast enough," where will we get our news? Where will the right wing get its daily dose of outrage? Apparently, "liberal" straight news reporting doesn't tell the reader what to think and how angry they should get, so it is irrelevant. The founding fathers would be appalled. But instead of complaining or mourning the death of the fourth estate, why not solve the problem?

With the loss of so many local newspapers across America, I came up with an idea to save all of them, using the newest technology available. Download them to E-readers, like the Kindle 2. Think about it. You wake up in the morning, grab a cup of coffee and page through your e-readers news, downloaded automatically that morning via WI FI.

Here my big idea: Online papers are now a part of the electronic media, delivered via my cable line. Cable TV utilizes a digital box or a DVR to deliver in the information. Like those devices, the Kindle 2 and other book readers would allow subscribers to get their newspapers downloaded wirelessly every day. A partnership with reader manufacturers would allow subscribers to rent the reader from the news outlet for a small fee per month along with a small service fee for the news service. It would offer the local newspaper along with "packaged" national papers and magazines as well. This would benefit not only online papers but the daily "paper" versions as well, moving them into the future.

As bad luck would have it, my dreams of being a multi-billionaire have been dashed. See "Detroit Papers Testing E-Readers," on Editorandpublisher.com: "The Detroit Media Partnership...is testing the waters of digitally distributing two Detroit dailies with an electronic reader..."

Or "Hearst plans electronic reader for magazines," on Physorg.com.

There are other readers, like one coming from Fujitsu, with a price of $1,000, and the Plastic Logic eReader, due in 2010.

John Peterson

Middleton, WI

Apr 6 2009 - 12:40pm

Web Letter

Everybody is aware of the gloom and doom surrounding the print press. As a compulsive seven-day newspaper reader, I worry too. On the other hand, I can't help noting some of the strategic failures of the print press nationwide, including such stalwarts as the New York Times and the Washington Post. Forget the build-up to the Iraq War for the moment. Speaking of the biggest failure, I wonder what would happen if the Post or Times--or The Nation--challenged three or four editors and perhaps a dozen reporters to take a hint from the muckrakers of 100 years ago. Take on the government drive to radically and pitilessly increase economic inequality since 1980, and especially since 1992.

What I'm talking about are the political policies of all three branches of government, mostly at the hands of radical Republicans, but also by the plutocratic-leaning Clinton Democrats. These policies deliberately and successfully aimed to exponentially increase economic and wealth inequality under cover of promoting "freedom" and "personal responsibility" and letting people "handle their own money." Under cover of these slogans and the "free market" and "free" trade, these policies actually gave much more money to the financially nimble and already very rich by tax cuts inimical to the general social welfare, while removing almost all financial and business regulation from those turbocharged with a virulent form of selfish rather than socially productive individualism. At the same time, equally deliberately, these policies aimed to increase the poverty and insecurity of the unemployed poor (by shredding welfare), the working poor (by freezing the minimum wage and increasing regressive forms of taxation) and formerly unionized blue-collar workers (by giving business the green light to destroy unions). The cover here was that these policies actively promoting inequality were good for these groups by protecting their "moral fiber," saving them from a "culture of dependency" and keeping away that arch-bogeyman, "socialism," ignoring the reality that with government-run veterans benefits, Medicare and, to a degree, Social Security, we already are and have been for decades a significantly socialist country.

Think of a seesaw in which one side is deliberately lifted up, while the other side is relentlessly pushed down. An appalling number of people--indeed most of the country, including almost the entire print press--swallowed this crafty and clever tale hook, line and sinker. Now from time to time over the years excellent columns on this radical restructuring of our society, and some very good books about it, have been written and reviewed in the print press, mostly to be read and clucked-clucked over by a few thousand people, and then respectfully retired to the shelf--I have a number of them myself. But what if a major paper broke from the docile nationwide flock of sheep and took on this core issue of unfair or loaded-dice inequality with its ferocious, shameless, arrogantly unapologetic winner-take-all entitlement mentality, and wrote about it four or five days a week for a month or so. A major sub-theme might be the stunning irony that we attacked the entitlement mentality of the poor while doing everything possible to embed that mentality in the consciousness of the lucky, the privileged and the talented. Could this be the ultimate reason for the plight most of us are either now in, or realistically fear? Think of this suggestion as the awakened good-guy counterpart to the decades-long bullying of the right-wing radio and TV "howling wolves" who successfully intimidated or brainwashed much of the public and almost all of the conventional press for so long. Which they are still doing, despite the global crash brought on by their propaganda and ideological warfare.

It's hard to believe such an effort to explore the inequality consciously and deliberately created over the last thirty years wouldn't capture the country's attention. And perhaps even put a burr under Obama's saddle, just when this promising young president appears to be making the colossal blunder of propping up and reinstating the plutocratic structure that made this crash inevitable, rather than crafting a genuine New Deal for the twenty-first century in the world's most important country. What do you think would happen to the circulation of a mjor paper or magazine if such a bold effort were made (as opposed to the cover story of Time that peddled the idea that "we" are all--presumably equally--responsible)? And what might happen to the circulation of the print press around the country if, reacting to this unprecedented initiative, copycat and catch-up efforts followed? Do you think we might have a robust, focused populist anger, rather than the opaque and inarticulate anger that the elite press seems to be so worried about? I say you'd have a print press worth saving, rather than the lazy, bloated, plutocracy-defending institution that's been asleep for over fifteen years on an issue even bigger and more fundamental than the pre-war story it botched in 2002-03. Worth a try?

Ron Thompson

Fairfax, VA

Apr 2 2009 - 5:22pm

Web Letter

It is the duty of government to keep its citizens informed so they can make good decisions. The government must have a Department of Information. Corporations, lobbyists and even the government (the Pentagon, as mentioned in the article) spend huge amounts of money to spin their facts to the public. The public needs an institution that can equal this mass onslaught of misinformation. This can only be the government. The Freedom of Information Act is only the tip of the iceberg of what the government should be doing. Any request to the government for information about anything should be met with in-depth research and investigation. All institutions of learning and library systems should be coordinated by this department. The information should be accessible on the Internet and free high speed Internet access should be available to all for disseminating information and for retrieving it intelligently. It is the job of the Fourth Estate to prioritize and put value judgments on this information. The government should also have a "truth squad" where misinformation and outright lies are highlighted and controlled. If you are afraid of control by the government, you do not envision a government controlled by yourself--the people. This is one step in that direction. You cannot control what you don't know.

russ gustafson

Redwood City, CA

Apr 1 2009 - 2:36pm

Web Letter

A day without newspapers sounds like the end of democracy. I'm sorry to be both simple and a doomsayer to boot. However, an "informed citizenry" is essential, as one of our forefathers put it some years ago, to a "functioning democracy." I'm betting even Sean Hannity wouldn't disagree with that statement.

This is excellent article because, unlike recent editorials and stories on the same subject, it begins with the premise that this is a matter of imminent concern--one which should be discussed not just by newspapers and those who read them but also by our government.

Yes, the reasons for the demise of newspapers and the printed word in general can be traced to many causes, some more obvious than others. The Internet's role is certainly one which persons more expert than myself will want to debate in the coming years. But the net is simply a format. It has more to do with technical and physical changes in our communications than in the communications themselves.

I can still read an article or even a book digitally if I want. In fact, some would argue, I have more and more reading at the click of my fingertips, thanks to my computer. Well... yes, this is like cable TV, in that "more" usually equals less in quality. But that's another story.

That said, commercial advertising and the cost of printing are surely contributing to the disadvantage of print media. On the other hand, the blogosphere and the culture's adaptation to it may one day seem a kind of hiccup or an interruption with regard to news and the reporting of news and information.

There will be complications both prolific and practical, local and general, in the transition from print to Internet such as who reads what by whom for what reason and, especially, who pays for it? Can news exist outside a format reliant on advertising? (Who can begin to answer these questions-- my age and limited understanding of the virtual/digital world vs. that which I grew up with gives me a distinct disadvantage.)

My son navigates the net like it's the wall become ceiling and he's Gene Kelly in soft shoes. For years we read books out loud almost every night until, at 12 years old, he asked me to stop. So he's literate enough. But books are not a medium he interacts with anymore. Books are simply different to him. He gets his "scoop" elsewhere. The medium and the message for him are not what they are or were to me.

Still, it seems true that citizens in a democracy demand information in order to remain free. Someone (who was it?) once said that "all politics is local." All newspapers were once local, too, until Rupert Murdoch, et.al., got hold of them.

If, the next generation of readers is more equipped to receive their information via a new format -- the internet -- and that format, unlike its print predecessor, is less dependent on commercial advertisement to thrive, then that is where we find ourselves. Once we were agrarian rather than industrial. Once we drove horses rather than cars. How did our Constitution survive those changes? It seems to have, and to have done so well -- perhaps because it was both visionary and down to earth, in addition to quite clear and literate in its communication, beginning with "We the people..."

I haven't got answers to my own questions here. However, the word literacy keeps popping back up. While it may seem politically incorrect to assert that our survival as a democratic republic requires a certain amount of literacy -- a comprehension of our government, our part in it, and our history, then I stand politically incorrect. I realize that it's easy for me to say. I received a college and post-college education, much of it owing to the Carter Administration and a time when subsidies for education were available.

Whereas, if I look to the left or right of me, in the neighborhood I now live in, it is clear that I got lucky, timing-wise. Education beyond high school in our country is not affordable or equal to this day--much like health care.

This is not even to mention that the likes of talk radio that caters to that exact segment of our population which considers education to be suspect, if not integral to the demise of capitalism. Limbaugh and the likes, Fox News, etc., blame higher education, either directly, in the case of Limbaugh, or indirectly (Fox News)for everything from abortion to the collapse of world markets! If it weren't for Harvard intellectuals, the thesis seems to be, our country would win all wars -- at home and abroad -- terror and bankruptcy and, well, you name it.

This is to say, thank you for this piece which gets to the heart of the matter. Education, like health care, is imperative to democracy. News and newspapers should be considered foremost in any discussion of a healthy democracy.

Barbara Molloy

Kirkland, WA

Mar 31 2009 - 3:26am

Web Letter

This article makes an attempt to distinguish between newspapers and journalism but ultimately fails at that. Many of the solutions offered are designed to prop up paper distribution. None of them will matter. Newspapers will die. It's inevitable. Oh sure, perhaps a few will survive here and there as boutique operations, but they won't be relevant.

Beyond that, the main problem with the prescription offered here is that it is a misguided attempt to maintain industrial age journalism in this new post-industrial age we're entering. As has been observed elsewhere, the pre-industrial style of many small players engaging in many-to-many conversations and transactions, as with the pamphleteers of old and with business in general, was largely displaced by industrial-sized operations in the 20th century. You could characterize these as one size fits all, one-to-many relationships, and we all became consumers of corporate products. As with automobiles and soft drinks, so it was with newspapers and broadcast journalism. It was in this environment that the concept of "objective journalism" became necessary, sometimes derided as the view from nowhere.

In many ways, the advent of the internet and the information revolution in general is making the world look like our pre-industrial past as much as it is remaking society into something new. This will be true for journalism too. News will be generated and distributed by interested parties, just like it used to be. Look to the political parties, associated political groups, and issue advocacy groups to begin investing in journalism to get their views out. As with FoxNews/MSNBC, citizens will choose the sources they trust, even knowing that the sources have a point of view. Judging by middle-of-the-road CNN's third place ratings, we actually prefer it this way. The monopoly newspaper is artificial, stilted, and really a dull read.

It is industrialized journalism that is at the heart of the many real problems with journalism that the article describes. While the transition to post-industrial journalism will be chaotic, that is no reason to keep 20th century journalism going. It's over.

Brian O'Connell

Columbus, OH

Mar 30 2009 - 2:39pm

Web Letter

This is the most comprehensive report I have read on this subject. It is impressive, especially the part that describes the problem. In the proposed solutions though, they try to revitalize the media model that worked in the twentieth century for the twenty first, by using lofty socialism ideas straight from the nineteenth century.

Even if fully implemented, it will not work.

The damage is much greater than this report states. Not only is the quality of journalism in the United States today dreadful but also, after a few decades of feeding the public with diluted information and fluff, we have audience that is satisfied with trivia and Glenn Beck as a news reporter. Americans do not feel a need for better journalism than they have. John Nichols, Robert W. McChesney, me, and a handful of others are a tiny minority.

One needs to seek a solution in business models that acknowledge people’s gravitation to the internet as a primary source of information. The right solution needs to address as well that, when it comes to understanding the basics of dynamics of social and economic phenomena, most of Americans are -- kindly speaking -- undereducated. Lastly, the right solution should allow some people on Wall Street to make money.

I do not need to mention that I have one idea on hand.

I wrote on the subject, about the Chicago Tribune, and in response to the text by Walter Isaacson.

Henryk A. Kowalczyk

Bolingbrook, IL

Mar 28 2009 - 11:21pm

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