About 12 years ago, I got a call from Tom Bray, then editorial page editor of the Detroit News. I had known him since the early 1980s, when he was an editorial page editor of The Wall Street Journal, where I had written many articles. Tom asked me if I would be interested in writing a column for the News, and I agreed. Subsequently, I offered my column to The Washington Times, and eventually it was picked up by Creators Syndicate for national distribution.
This is the last of those columns. The world has changed a lot since 1995, and I've decided that there are better ways for me to express myself. The Internet, in particular, has enormously changed the ability to get a message out -- one is no longer dependent on the traditional media, such as newspapers, for that purpose. Today, anyone with a computer and a modem can start a blog and, for all intents and purposes, be a columnist.
In the not-too-distant past, this was impossible. If you didn't write for a newspaper, it was very hard to get out commentary on topical subjects in a timely manner. But if you were any good, it wasn't too difficult to make a pretty nice living as a columnist because there were many newspapers and competition raised the value of those columnists that readers would follow from one paper to another.
In those days, most major cities had several papers -- at least one in the morning and another in the afternoon. Since editorial policies were one way that papers competed, if one was liberal, the other, usually the afternoon paper, tended to be conservative.
But as work patterns and lifestyles changed, most cities became one-newspaper towns. The morning paper usually survived, while the afternoon newspaper died, generally eliminating the conservative voice. Even when the morning paper was the conservative one, it generally became liberal once it had a monopoly.
For a few years, once the competition was eliminated, newspapers were cash machines making enormous profits. But investors came to demand such profits year after year. As competition from talk radio and the Internet undercut their position, newspapers responded by sharply slashing costs in order to maintain high profit margins.
One way they cut back is by reducing budgets for columnists and becoming dependent on those that came at no additional cost from the New York Times and Washington Post news services. Now it seems as if every paper is running the same few columnists -- like David Broder from the Post and Tom Friedman from the Times. Their main attraction is that they mirror the conventional wisdom and seldom upset anyone with controversial opinions about anything.
Bruce Bartlett is a former senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis of Dallas, Texas. Bartlett is a prolific author, having published over 900 articles in national publications, and prominent magazines and published four books, including Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action.
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