Suicide by stupidity

Eric Alterman explains the unlamented demise of the daily newspaper:

The American newspaper (and the nightly newscast) is designed to appeal to a broad audience, with conflicting values and opinions, by virtue of its commitment to the goal of objectivity. Many newspapers, in their eagerness to demonstrate a sense of balance and impartiality, do not allow reporters to voice their opinions publicly, march in demonstrations, volunteer in political campaigns, wear political buttons, or attach bumper stickers to their cars.

In private conversation, reporters and editors concede that objectivity is an ideal, an unreachable horizon, but journalists belong to a remarkably thin-skinned fraternity, and few of them will publicly admit to betraying in print even a trace of bias. They discount the notion that their beliefs could interfere with their ability to report a story with perfect balance. As the venerable “dean” of the Washington press corps, David Broder, of the Post, puts it, “There just isn’t enough ideology in the average reporter to fill a thimble.”

Meanwhile, public trust in newspapers has been slipping at least as quickly as the bottom line.

The problem with newspapers is that they’ve been selling a fraudulent product for decades. Alterman is right, editors and journalists are totally convinced that they’re objective, even as they piss off at least a third of their potential readership with their obvious and overt political bias. It’s no secret why blogs and sites like WND have exploded in popularity; they don’t attempt to hide their basic perspective and you usually know what you’re getting with them. Visit VP and you know you’re going to get radical libertarianism, economic contrarianism, anti-equalitarianism and artistic cruelty directed at atheists, feminists, science fetishists, and Lakers fans. If you like that, you’ll read it, if you don’t you usually won’t.

The same is true for newspapers, but they are in denial about what they are: the propaganda arm for state and federal government, left-wing economics and skiffy social evolution. The market for that is limited. In summary, you can fool a lot of the people a lot of the time, but eventually it’s going to catch up to you and a business built around the fundamental concept of intentionally insulting your intelligence isn’t likely to survive as soon as an alternative presents itself.

Technology isn’t killing the newspapers. It’s merely providing alternatives to them that millions of people are gladly choosing.