The question is: Do Americans really want to live in a world without newspapers?
If you're reading this, chances are good you don't. Yet almost daily we read reports of more buyouts and budget cuts at America's papers owing to fewer readers.
Newsrooms, now cubicled and corporatized, have become the morgues they so closely resemble, filled with ghosts of the departed and those who await the next ax to fall. Who's next? A copy editor here, a columnist there, or - most endangered of all - a cartoonist?
Nearly all corporately owned papers have suffered in recent years as profit margins have dropped along with circulation and advertising. Talk is that Knight Ridder, one of the largest newspaper chains, may be sold in the near future. The Tribune Company, which owns both my home paper, The Orlando Sentinel, and my syndicate, Tribune Media Services, is making tough calls across the board.
The Tribune Company has been hit by both lower-than-usual profits and, most injurious, a circulation scandal that cost the company a bundle. At two of the company's newspapers, Newsday and Hoy, Tribune Co.'s Spanish-language paper, circulation figures upon which advertising rates are primarily based were exaggerated.
Tribune has set aside $90 million to settle with aggrieved advertisers. Combine that kind of wound with consumer trends away from newspapers toward other media and the question of survival becomes urgent.
The solution to stanch bleeding has been predictable and, if you're of a certain business mind, logical. When revenues go down, the calculator crowd reasons, you cut costs. But to those in the trenches, cutting staff is exactly the wrong solution, more like a self-inflicted wound trending toward suicide than a remedy.
By cutting newsroom staffs, the corporate suits are reducing the likelihood that papers can do what makes them necessary. And they are necessary, a point too many seem to be missing.
As much as we've heard about the slow death of newspapers - "mainstream media," as disaffected bloggers like to call us - we've heard little about why this is no cause for celebration. A so-called "victory" for the blogosphere vis-a-vis declining newspaper readership is very much a defeat for the freedoms we take for granted.
Newspapers serve their communities in ways that can't be replicated by bloggers - noble-spirited, smart and entertaining as many often are - or by anyone else. They not only help define a given community, but also serve as both government watchdog and information conduit. They have the resources to investigate, to report, to inform as no other entity can, does or will.
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