John Scalzi notes the iconic passing of an old school newspaperman, James Bellows. My thoughts on the subject he raises, namely, the ongoing decline of the newspaper.
I agree that newspapers have become increasingly boring, but the reason they’re in such dire straits is that they are facing numerous challenges. The technological angle is obvious, but another important element was the decision of too many editors and journalists in the post-Watergate era to become what was in effect the propaganda branch of the Democratic Party. How would an anti-establishment figure like Bellows fight the establishment now that former anti-establishmentarians are the new establishment?
Regardless what one thinks of its product – and I don’t watch it myself – the huge success of Fox News has derived primarily from the fact that ABCNNBCBS and PBS were all devoted to serving the same left-leaning half of the country, leaving the other half with talk radio. In Minnesota, it was always amusing to read the political endorsements of the Star Tribune and the Pioneer Press, both of which inevitably endorsed Democratic Farmer-Labor candidates except when the Independent Republican candidate was a certain winner. My family subscribed to the “Star and Sickle” for many years until my parents just couldn’t stand it anymore, switched to the Pioneer Press for a while, and finally gave up newspapers altogether.
Another element is the mass homogenization of what worked best as a local product. Did anyone seriously expect a bunch of Minnesota Lutherans or Hispanic Catholics to pay to read a New York Jew’s opinion on Likud vs Labor? Until I understood what the AP was, I couldn’t figure out why a Minneapolis paper published more editorials about the mayor of New York City than about its own mayor.
I’m certainly not saying that serving the broad spectrum of the populace would have been enough to save any newspapers from the other challenges facing them, but you know something was fundamentally wrong with the business model when many intelligent, educated, high-income individuals, the very sort of people newspapers needed as customers if they were going to survive, are openly celebrating their demise.