|AP photo / Mark Lennihan|
By Chris Hedges
The decline of newspapers is not about the replacement of the antiquated technology of news print with the lightning speed of the Internet. It does not signal an inevitable and salutary change. It is not a form of progress. The decline of newspapers is about the rise of the corporate state, the loss of civic and public responsibility on the part of much of our entrepreneurial class and the intellectual poverty of our post-literate world, a world where information is conveyed primarily through rapidly moving images rather than print.
All these forces have combined to strangle newspapers. And the blood on the floor, this year alone, is disheartening. Some 6,000 journalists nationwide have lost their jobs, news pages are being radically cut back and newspaper stocks have tumbled. Advertising revenues are dramatically falling off with many papers seeing double-digit drops. McClatchy Co., publisher of the Miami Herald, has seen its shares fall by 77 percent this year. Lee Enterprises Inc., which owns the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, is down 84 percent. Gannett Co., which publishes USA Today, is trading at nearly a 17-year low. The San Francisco Chronicle is now losing $1 million a week.
The Internet will not save newspapers. Although all major newspapers, and most smaller ones, have Web sites, and have had for a while, newspaper Web sites make up less than 10 percent of newspaper ad revenue. Analysts say that although Net advertising amounts to $21 billion a year, that amount is actually relatively small. So far, the really big advertisers have stayed away, either unsure of how to use the Internet or suspicious that it can't match the viewer attention of older media.
Newspapers, when well run, are a public trust. They provide, at their best, the means for citizens to examine themselves, to ferret out lies and the abuse of power by elected officials and corrupt businesses, to give a voice to those who would, without the press, have no voice, and to follow, in ways a private citizen cannot, the daily workings of local, state and federal government. Newspapers hire people to write about city hall, the state capital, political campaigns, sports, music, art and theater. They keep citizens engaged with their cultural, civic and political life. When I began as a foreign correspondent 25 years ago, most major city papers had bureaus in Latin America, the Middle East, Europe, Asia and Moscow. Reporters and photographers showed Americans how the world beyond our borders looked, thought and believed. Most of this is vanishing or has vanished.
We live under the happy illusion that we can transfer news-gathering to the Internet. News-gathering will continue to exist, as it does on this Web site and sites such as ProPublica and Slate, but these traditions now have to contend with a new, widespread and ideologically driven partisanship that dominates the dissemination of views and information, from Fox News to blogger screeds. The majority of bloggers and Internet addicts, like the endless rows of talking heads on television, do not report. They are largely parasites who cling to traditional news outlets. They can produce stinging and insightful commentary, which has happily seen the monopoly on opinion pieces by large papers shattered, but they rarely pick up the phone, much less go out and find a story. Nearly all reporting—I would guess at least 80 percent—is done by newspapers and the wire services. Take that away and we have a huge black hole.