Road Signs 04.2008

On Pulitzer Day in the newspaper world, the Seattle Times announced it is slicing nearly 200 persons from its staff, closing two suburban bureaus and ceasing publication of two 30-year-old zone editions.  It is the latest in a long list of cities where major newspapers have severely reduced their staff: New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Chicago, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, San Jose and San Francisco are among them.  Dow Jones put staff cutbacks at 7 percent overall for the industry as compared with its peak in 2000.

Eric Alterman says in his March 31 New Yorker essay, Out of Print, “Newspapers are dying; the evidence of diminishment in economic vitality, editorial quality, depth, personnel, and the over-all number of papers is everywhere. What this portends for the future is complicated… we are about to enter a fractured, chaotic world of news, characterized by superior community conversation but a decidedly diminished level of first-rate journalism.  The transformation of newspapers from enterprises devoted to objective reporting to a cluster of communities, each engaged in its own kind of ‘news’––.”  Newspapers will become less valued for their breadth and depth of coverage and more for their confirmation of existing beliefs, biases and prejudices, a la much of talk radio.

As for auto journalists, one veteran reporter and editor for papers big and small put it, “newspapers seldom geld the horse they’ve won with. …As long as stuff is sold, newspapers will do it better than anything–at least until the millions of us who still read them are history.  And they’ll do the job the way they’ve always done it–devoting special sections and/or pages to anything that pays.  Can you imagine a newspaper without ads and related stories about real estate, vehicles, business, travel, autos, entertainment, etc., etc.?”