Argument: Journalism industry is in crisis, requires government help

Issue Report: Should governments bailout journalism?


John Nichols and Robert McChesney. “The Death and Life of Great American Newspapers”. Nation. March 18, 2009 – “Let’s begin with the crisis. In a nutshell, media corporations, after running journalism into the ground, have determined that news gathering and reporting are not profit-making propositions. So they’re jumping ship. The country’s great regional dailies–the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Philadelphia Inquirer–are in bankruptcy. Denver’s Rocky Mountain News recently closed down, ending daily newspaper competition in that city. The owners of the San Francisco Chronicle, reportedly losing $1 million a week, are threatening to shutter the paper, leaving a major city without a major daily newspaper. Big dailies in Seattle (the Times), Chicago (the Sun-Times) and Newark (the Star-Ledger) are reportedly near the point of folding, and smaller dailies like the Baltimore Examiner have already closed. The 101-year-old Christian Science Monitor, in recent years an essential source of international news and analysis, is folding its daily print edition. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer is scuttling its print edition and downsizing from a news staff of 165 to about twenty for its online-only incarnation. Whole newspaper chains–such as Lee Enterprises, the owner of large and medium-size publications that for decades have defined debates in Montana, Iowa and Wisconsin–are struggling as the value of stock shares falls below the price of a single daily paper. And the New York Times needed an emergency injection of hundreds of millions of dollars by Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim in order to stay afloat.

Those are the headlines. Arguably uglier is the death-by-small-cuts of newspapers that are still functioning. Layoffs of reporters and closings of bureaus mean that even if newspapers survive, they have precious few resources for actually doing journalism. Job cuts during the first months of this year–300 at the Los Angeles Times, 205 at the Miami Herald, 156 at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 150 at the Kansas City Star, 128 at the Sacramento Bee, 100 at the Providence Journal, 100 at the Hartford Courant, ninety at the San Diego Union-Tribune, thirty at the Wall Street Journal and on and on–suggest that this year will see far more positions eliminated than in 2008, when almost 16,000 were lost. Even Doonesbury’s Rick Redfern has been laid off from his job at the Washington Post.”

David Scharfenberg. “Aiding tomorrow’s journalists today”. Boston Globe. February 2, 2009: “increasingly desperate newspapers, buffeted by declining circulation and the continued migration of advertising to the Web, are turning from buyouts to layoffs these days.

And younger, less-familiar staffers at the bottom of the seniority list are feeling the pinch. I should know. The Providence Journal laid off this 30-something reporter just a few months ago.

The cuts have short-term implications, of course. School committee meetings will go uncovered, State House scandals unreported. But they also threaten the long-term health of journalism: With little hope for a resurgence, the generation that might reinvent a dying craft is simply leaving the news business behind.

But there are ways to keep young journalists employed and, more importantly, to preserve the sort of journalism that keeps our democracy afloat.

Some have suggested changes in tax law that would make it easier for philanthropies to buy major news outlets, others favor a National Endowment for Journalism that newspapers could tap to pay for the investigative and international reporting now getting short-shrift.

But we need something bigger. Congress, intent on jump-starting the economy, should set aside $100 million – well under 1 percent of the stimulus approved by the House of Representatives and pending in the Senate – for a national journalism fund.”

Rosa Brooks. “Bail out journalism”. Los Angeles Times. April 9, 2009 – “Like everyone else whose livelihood is linked to the newspaper industry, I’ve been watching, appalled, as newspapers continue their death spiral, with dwindling circulations and thousands of layoffs. Here at The Times, the editorial staff is down to almost half the size it was in 2000. Often, as I’ve watched talented colleagues get the ax, I’ve suspected that I’ve only lasted this long because as a freelancer — with no benefits and minimal pay — I’m just too cheap to be worth firing.

Still, I knew it was time to pray for a government bailout in December, when my editor explained that because the paper’s parent company had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, I might not get paid for my recent columns”

Time’s Walter Isaacson describes the situation as having “reached meltdown proportions. … It is now possible to contemplate a time in the near future when major towns will no longer have a newspaper and when magazines and network news operations will employ no more than a handful of reporters.”[1]

Polly Toynbee. “This is an emergency. Act now, or local news will die”. The Guardian. March 24th, 2009: “this is an emergency. Battalions of journalists with local knowledge are being sacked and newspaper expertise lost. Does the government have the imagination and capacity to create an environment where small, locally run independent trusts could flourish?

Meanwhile, the national press risks following American newspapers to the great spike in the sky. Britain without the Mail or the Sun would be a happier place, less biliously nihilist, less miserable, angry and afraid. But democracy without the scrutiny of good journalism is unthinkable. In the end, it’s up to you. If you always read this on the web, go out and buy a copy, skinflint. Use it or lose it.”