Wanted. Readers. The Sad State of Newspapers.
August 27, 2013
I can guess, like everyone else, what the Jeff Bezos purchase of the Washington Post will mean to the newspaper business. But I really do not know.
But I do know this: Bezos, the guru guiding Amazon, has done us a big favor because he has caused a renewed, desperately needed discussion of the state of newspapers today.
For the most part, newspapers are doing a poor job.
Obviously, they have lost subscribers and advertisers.
They also have lost respect.
Mostly, they have lost their way.
Meaningful, aggressive news gathering by newspapers is too much a lost art.
Newspapers can argue – and do – that newspapers are in difficult economic times, that they no longer have the wherewithal to do the job as they should. There is some truth to this, of course.
But some of the decline of newspapers is their own fault.
They have done a curious thing: They have in large measure abandoned their own franchise. That is, they no longer aggressively, consistently cover the real news in their own back yards. They no longer dig, dig, dig. They no longer tell the reader what really is going on in the community – if they even know. Increasingly, their pages are dominated by puff ‘n’ fluff.
This is blatantly obvious to subscribers and advertisers. So many of them have gone away.
The chain-owned newspapers also pull an inordinate amount of newspaper profits
from the local community and send it back to corporate headquarters, not to mention the money they receive from the sale of newspaper assets.
They do not invest enough of it in the local newspaper so that the newspaper can compete and produce a quality product, thereby serving the community.
That shortchanges – cheats, really – subscribers, advertisers, community, staff.
Local newspaper staff members are in a near-constant state of trepidation. Will they be the next ones shown the door? Will their pay be cut? Again? Will they be furloughed? Ad infinitum.
It is a waste of time, effort and energy to complain to local newspaper “suits” about the shortcomings of the chain-owned local newspaper. The publisher, the editors are but mere hired hands, non-boat rockers beholden to the whims of the corporate bean counters.
What to do?
Direct your concerns about your inferior local newspaper to the corporate chief bean counter.
Insist that that chief bean counter provide you and the community a better newspaper.
Invite said corporate chief bean counter to town, to talk with newspaper staff and community. To find out what is wrong. To hear what might be done to make the newspaper better. Then ask said chief bean counter to hang around town long enough to institute needed changes. And make sure the ordered changes are made.
If chief bean counter accepts your invitation, good, at least you will get a hearing.
If not, you will at least fully understand where the real problem lies.
And that it is time to keep your subscription money in your pocket, to quit wasting your time and to move on, like so many, many others have already done.
Have no idea if this will work.
But at least Bezos’ newspaper purchase and the discussion it has sparked will give us opportunity to find out.
One other point: If the newspaper in your community is doing a good job (and, yes, I do know of at least one) tell the chief bean counter, the publisher, the editors (and, yes, I have done this, too.) They need – and deserve – to know that, too. Be specific. If nothing else, maybe those in charge at the inferior newspapers will inquire about how the good newspaper people manage to produce a worthwhile product under the same dire newspaper economic circumstances. And they can tell them.
We can hope.
Thank you, Jeff Bezos. Thank you very much.