Dan Gainor

Instead of trying to revolutionize the news business, owners milked their cash cows until the cows died. Instead of embracing new tech, unions battled changing job rules and entrepreneurs launched competitors instead of dealing with such bureaucracy. That was poison in a good economy. With a major downturn, it is likely fatal.

Sure there will continue to be well run local print news outlets. But they are few. Even the Examiner’s scrappy local content wasn’t enough to buck the tide of an advertising slowdown and the loss of 43,000 industry jobs in the last two years.

It’s not just the Internet that’s taking a toll, either. Newspapers have been shedding circulation for years, but no number of fancy charts and color photos has addressed the core problem for the news media – a loss in credibility.

The media’s Obama obsession in the last election reminded Americans that too many in news can’t be trusted. The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press released a 2008 study that declared: “virtually every news organization or program has seen its credibility marks decline.” Just 25 percent of The Wall Street Journal readers said they “believe all or most of what the organization says.” The New York Times, Associated Press and USA Today all rated even lower.

The industry solution? Several executives have banded together to start a Web site – www.newspaperproject.org – promoting the industry and combating “negative, gloom-and-doom stories about newspapers.” The site attempts to whistle past the graveyard for an industry trying desperately to pay its bills. Strong readership numbers online are not turning into enough dollars to run things the old way. And even the old way didn’t always work.

The industry’s death throes are also a reminder that sometimes life imitates art imitating life. In 1952, Humphrey Bogart played a crusty newspaperman trying to save a dying paper in the movie classic “Deadline U.S.A.” It was patterned after a real life newspaper closing where Bogart’s paper, The Day, fights one last crusade against corruption before it too passes away.

Bogart’s character issued warnings that resonate even today – that “a free press, sir, is like a free life, it’s always in danger.” Thankfully, Bogey knew that danger could come not just from closing down, but from a government handout. Today’s journalists need to do a good Bogart impression.

Dan Gainor

Dan Gainor is The Boone Pickens Free Market Fellow and director of the Media Research Center’s Business & Media Institute.