Kathleen Parker

WASHINGTON - Ever since November, when President George W. Bush stunned so-called "media elites" by winning re-election, the media elite have been haunted by self-doubt.

How could they have missed what was coming? Is America really divided into reds and blues - the colors assigned to a U.S. map displaying voting patterns? Are the media really elitist - disconnected from "ordinary Americans," as the media like to refer to the folks out yonder?

The answer is implicit in the question, isn't it? When "they" are "ordinary," then the media are Something Else. Extraordinary, perhaps? Even so, it's a hopeful, if somewhat belated, sign that industry insiders are aware something's amiss.

Thus, editors convening here this week at the annual meeting of the American Society of Newspaper Editors did what editors often do when they gather in a group. They tortured themselves with self-recrimination. What are we doing wrong? Why are circulations dropping? Why do they hate us?

Our beloved newspaper industry is in trouble, you may have heard. Between declining public trust in old "dead tree" media, dips in circulation and advertising revenues, competition from new digital media, not to mention relentless pressure from those fact-checking whippersnappers hurling deadeye darts from the blogosphere, newspapers are in a bit of a slump.

And things are predicted to get much worse unless newspapers make radical changes.

Media mogul Rupert Murdoch, whose company's holdings include 20th Century Fox, Fox Television Studios and the New York Post, spoke bluntly to the gathering about how the digital revolution blindsided the traditional news industry.

Murdoch focused mostly on how to respond to changing appetites of the rising generation of news consumers, who are more likely to turn to the Internet for their tidings. He urged that newspapers save themselves by embracing the digital revolution, in part by incorporating blogging into news coverage and by improving Web sites.

But what struck me as far more interesting than the mechanics of the news business were Murdoch's observations about the human aspect, specifically journalists' attitudes toward the consumers they hope to woo.

Basically, he said, too many journalists think their readers are, shall we say, dim.

". Studies show we're in an odd position: We're more trusted by the people who aren't reading us. And when you ask journalists what they think about their readers, the picture grows darker," Murdoch said.

He cited a recent study that found the percentage of national journalists who have confidence in ordinary Americans' ability to make good decisions has declined by more than 20 points since 1999.

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
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