I had a different column when I woke up on deadline day, but I wrote this one, not because any major news had broken—yes, the FBI raided the office of President Trump’s personal lawyer—but because our country and our democracy are in the midst of an ongoing emergency, and our embattled media is unable or unwilling to explain it.
What inspired my switch was Politico’s publication of the results of a study that demonstrated “a clear correlation between low [newspaper] subscription rates and Trump’s success in the 2016 election, both against Hillary Clinton and when compared to Romney in 2012. Those links were statistically significant even when accounting for other factors that likely influenced voter choices, such as college education and employment, suggesting that the decline of local media sources by itself may have played a role in the election results.” It’s an enormously detailed study, and the data confirm what newspaper reporters and editors have been trying to tell a complacent public for years: “Lose us and you lose your democracy.” Walter Lippmann explained the problem in The Atlantic Monthly back in 1919: “The quack, the charlatan, the jingo, and the terrorist, can flourish only where the audience is deprived of independent access to information.”
However flawed our most important media institutions may be, this deprivation is something your columnist has been shouting about as long as he has been a columnist. Today, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we have lost more than half of the newspaper jobs we had just 15 years ago. What is less well known is how much worse the problem is in the middle of the country, where Trump has been so successful in suckering voters into voting against their own interests. According to a 2017 Politico report, 73 percent of all Internet-publishing jobs are concentrated in coastal cities like New York City; Washington, DC; and Los Angeles.
These numbers, together with the Politico study, bring the extraordinary battle currently being waged by the remaining staff numbers at The Denver Post into sharper (and more alarming) focus. The newspaper, which serves a city of 700,000, has been systematically decimated by its greedy owner, the hedge fund Alden Global Capital, which is in the process of laying off roughly two-thirds of its newsroom. The remaining staff have embarked on a campaign to find a savior. They have made a public demand for Alden to cease its raid on the public’s right (and need) to know what is going on inside its community and country. As one of its reporters tweeted, “The @denverpost is being murdered by its owners.… We need a new owner, or we are going to get shut down (and soon).”