The Inquirer announced a buyout offer this week in order to facilitate a reduction of newsroom staff by 16 percent -- 75 jobs. The newspaper business would seem to be in trouble. Advertising and circulation, for many papers, are both down. The Internet is frequently cited as the culprit -- people getting their news online rather than from papers.
This is usually thought of in terms of mere convenience, but I think there's a lot more to it than that. Take local news, for instance. I never look for local news on the Internet. I don't even know if there's much local news to be found there, apart from the local TV stations' sites -- and The Inquirer and Daily News sites. So it isn't just a matter of convenience. The A section of the paper I get every morning is right before the B section. I just skip it usually.
I read national and international news online because I can get nearer the source. If I want to know what's going on in Great Britain, I'll check the Times of London or the Evening Standard or the Telegraph.
But there's another problem. The newspaper business has become something of game of Chinese Whispers -- everybody's passing along the same story in the same way. There's also the problem of keeping up with the Times -- the idea that, if the New York Times did a big piece on something, every other paper ought to as well. My own view is that there's an entire planet's worth of news out there and that it's the job of reporters to find it and report it. I think people would buy any paper that was filled every day with stories about things they hadn't heard of, as opposed to another story that they've heard on radio and TV, and seen online. You can go anywhere in the U.S. and read the same damn thing in every newspaper.
The big story today is Tom DeLay's indictment. Let me make a prediction: DeLay isn't going to be convicted of anything. Why do I think that? Because I read the indictment -- and so can you right here. See if you can figure out what exactly it is DeLay is accused of (he's only mentioned near the end).
My point is that if you spend a bit a time on the Internet and are really interested in finding out the facts about the DeLay case, you can be your own reporter -- and your own media critic to boot, since you'll probably find the accounts in the papers and TV lacking in ... reportage. On the tube they'll have the same AP or Reuters story and some pompous windbags telling you how it's all going to turn out. In this case, it's trouble for the Republican Party, of course. In the paper there will be an analysis that will say much the same thing as the pompous windbags and the editorial page will portentously take a position that you can almost certainly guess if you're at all familiar with the paper in question.
Same old, same old. What people want is something different. News.