Monday, March 30, 2009

Print Media's Self-Inflicted Wounds

From a column the SF Chronicle by David Sirota that I think eludes the the real reason many newspapers are struggling (and conversely, why our own local papers may fair the storm much better):

First, financially strapped newspapers undermined their comparative advantage by replacing audience-attracting local exclusives with cheaper national content. Then, the providers of that national content diverted resources from tough-to-report investigative journalism that builds loyal readership and into paparazzi-like birdcage liner that unconvincingly portrays politicians, CEOs and their minions as celebrities.

"In place of comprehensive, complex and idiosyncratic coverage, readers of even the most serious newspapers were offered celebrity and scandal, humor and light provocation," says journalist-turned-director David Simon, whose HBO series "The Wire" examined this trend.

The most preventable tragedy was the deterioration of quality. Downsized local publications were all but forced to rely on more national content, but that content didn't have to become so vapid.

Beltway scribes didn't have to miss the Iraq war lies or the predictive signs of the Wall Street meltdown. Election correspondents weren't compelled to devote four times the coverage to the tactical insignifica of campaigns than to candidates' positions and records, as the Project for Excellence in Journalism found. Business reporters didn't need to give corporate spokespeople twice the space in articles as they did workers and unions, as a Center for American Progress report documents. National editors weren't obligated to focus on "elevat(ing) the most banal doings" in the White House to "breaking news," as the New York Times recently noted.

But that's what happened.
Say what you will about our local media, but the two biggest examples -- The Trib, and Cannon's Mormon Times D-News -- have fared much better than equally sized papers in surrounding markets. They have also doubled down on local coverage. I don't think the two are unrelated.

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