{Empty title} | The Nation

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.