John Nichols and Robert W. McChesney’s April 6 “The Death and Life of Great American Newspapers” drew much mail, expressing an array of opinions. Readers thought the article “wonderful,” “insightful,” “sad, frightening and deeply important.” Many agreed that newspapers must be saved for the health of our democracy. But there was also a “let them die” crowd: “by the time I remove the advertising, fliers and useless information from my newspaper, there’s nothing. I’m tired of being left with stacks of recycling”; “the death of newspapers will save our forests and reduce global warming”; “why should we [subsidize] papers that feed us only what the wealthy want us to see?” One reader suggests we should just say, “Ave atque vale.“ —The Editors
Your cover story is the most important I’ve read in years. Anyone concerned with the future of democracy should heed its call. A minor quibble: the authors say they are enthusiastic about Wikipedia. The New York Times has revealed that Wal-Mart and ExxonMobil had a field day manipulating Wikipedia articles about themselves. In an article in the Pulitzer Prize-winning (and endangered) Rutland Herald, I showed how the industry turned a Wikipedia nuclear power article into a PR piece. For information on an effort to keep high-quality local journalism alive in northwestern New England, go to eeshawilliams.blogspot.com.
Saxtons River, Vt.
As a journalist and freelance writer, I know all too well about the crisis in journalism. I have seen the demise of so many publications for which I once wrote (some cited by the authors), I’ve stopped counting them. A newspaper for which I’ve been a regular columnist for eight years recently informed me that it could no longer pay me. I am now donating my work there because I have a lot to say and a following that likes me to say it. One paper has just informed its columnists that we are being cut by three monthly columns a year.
As a lecturer in sociology and ethics, I work hard to instill in my students an understanding of the critical role sound independent journalism plays in a democracy. I’m not sure they–iPods and cellphones in hand–get it; they are certainly not reading newspapers or magazines regularly.
So I like some of the suggestions offered by Nichols and McChesney with regard to engaging youth in the Fourth Estate. At the same time, I doubt there will be much public enthusiasm for government intervention or “bailouts” to the tune of $60 billion over three years. Nonetheless, I hope the article makes its way into the hands of folks on Capitol Hill. At least some of them will be interested in the notion of a “free press ‘infrastructure project'” in the interest of “an informed citizenry, and democracy itself.”
I find myself in a dilemma. Though I am in the demographic that is gaga over the Internet, I am less than enthused with the content and the delivery mechanism. Sitting in a comfortable chair with a bendable print copy in my hands that does not pop advertisements directly into my face is much more desirable than what’s on my computer. Nevertheless, I do receive most of my news on the Net. My dilemma, though, is an economic one. I feel it is more of a necessity to have the Internet than it is for me to subscribe to my favorite newspapers and magazines. Were I to lose my job, I would be in a much better position to get a new one using the Internet than a newspaper. I have a limited income, so my only choice seems to be to stick with the Internet (and the added benefits of e-mail, etc.), rather than pay for newspapers. I hate to think I am contributing to the demise of good journalism. I know it is probably too late to overhaul this behemoth, but there has to be a better way.
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East Moriches, N.Y.
At 61, I read a newspaper. But I think newspapers should die. Why not have a few national papers staffed by an elite group of writers, covering national and international issues?
Nichols and McChesney’s article reads like my own obituary, if not the country’s. But I do not think the print paper is dead, nor can we expect government subsidies. If the Chronicle fails, I expect ten small papers to be born in San Francisco. They will be reader-specific and small. They might concentrate on gay news, sports, the arts, neighborhoods, the elderly. If you can live with a 5,000 circulation, you can succeed. Keep it local, keep it lively, keep it inexpensive and you’ll keep printing.
In our area an old local paper is back in print to deal with local issues. The world is becoming local and global. I can access news from any source. The Internet is making real democracy possible.
JASON MILLER, publisher-editor,
Under private or public (or both) umbrellas, why not develop four national regional papers with the best journalists available, while the states and/or counties develop their own versions of this format? This could be done in conjunction with state universities, which could help with costs and resources. They could develop more involved journalism, and that might draw young people back into the process.
The authors propose using government subsidies to fund an independent press. But how can we persuade the public and lawmakers to pay for it? It’s difficult enough persuading the public to pay for programs like education. And progressives want to fund not just journalism but also healthcare, public transportation, elections and green energy. Conservatives have been brilliant at demonizing government and at raising citizens’ ire about taxes. Progressives need to do a better job of marketing the idea of government as a source of good and the merits of progressive taxation.
DONALD A. SMITH
Here’s an idea for saving America’s newspapers: allow newspapers that have had to cease operations to be restructured as not-for-profits under the leadership of the former employees, with allied community backing. Obviously, it would have to be a special designation that establishes management guidelines and limits on a paper’s external advertising revenues.
ALBERT L. COLONE
I am an avid reader of newspapers and regret the demise of the reporting they used to do. But they abandoned true journalism long ago, and there are so many other and better sources of news on the Internet. I get my news from British sources: the Guardian, the Financial Times, the Times of London and the BBC. They still provide real journalism.
Nichols and McChesney nicely dissect key problems of journalism and the need for public money as a remedy. Years ago Beth Sanders and I, in Fear and Favor in the Newsroom, put forward the idea of giving every adult a federal credit of $150 to direct to the nonprofit media organization of his/her choice (an idea borrowed from economist Dean Baker’s artistic-freedom voucher proposal). We proposed that the money be confined to nonprofit media because the corporate media are the problem (for every Juan González, there are dozens of Judith Millers). Despite their tiny size, nonprofit media like Pacifica Radio and Mother Jones expose the lies and half-truths on which most public policy is based.
I can stand to straddle both print and Internet, but newspaper reporting took a turn for the worse when corporate ownership killed off news in favor of infotainment. My father was a newspaper writer all his life. His paper was bought by Rupert Murdoch. I remember one day he had his coffee and the new, condensed, sound-bite-filled rag he used to write for in front of him. He looked up, shaking his head, and said, “This… is not a newspaper.”