Ross Mackenzie

What are some principal developments and changes witnessed during a 30-year career in syndication -- indeed, a 46-year career in the newspaper business?

Man on the moon. Giant leaps in technology -- yielding up computers and cell phones of astounding power. Quantum strides in medicine. The collapse of communism and the emergence of Islamofascism -- and, even now, chaos in the Arab world for reasons still unclear. The Pill. Debt of cosmic proportion. The failure of reform after reform to grow educational performance in significant ways. A yawning, and expanding, chasm between our civilian and military worlds.

Across the culture, the cry of diversity -- gender, affectional, and ethnic diversity in education, business, and the military -- witnessed most recently in the pulling and hauling over Don't Ask Don't Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act. The rise of democratic welfarism and the corresponding rise of an entitlement class. Near-paralysis by taxation. Our schools becoming monuments to mediocrity and indiscipline, our colleges licensing the young to do...whatever -- and instructing them less in academics than in sports, forbidden substances, weird behaviors, and sex.

Yet it may be that relating to this column, among the most momentous changes of the past 30 years has been the flight from the printed word.

Small bookshops gave way to megastores, now yielding to online enterprises bolstered by Kindles and iPads. The third edition of the definitive Oxford English Dictionary likely will never appear in printed form, only electronic. Magazines are tanking -- famous flags falling with distressing regularity. Newsweek sold for $1 and accumulated debt; rumors periodically circulate about Time going the way of U.S. News and The Saturday Evening Post (online only).

And newspapers are no exception. The truth is that combined daily circulation has been in decline since the mid-1970s. Industry committee after task force after commission agonized and scratched but couldn't figure out why. Among the major reasons were 1) a decline in appreciation for the joy of reading, 2) the growth of the Internet and the endless expansion of its capabilities, and 3) the inveterate leftism long infusing the mainstream media (MSM).

Talk radio and the Internet provided comfortable niches for non-leftists tired of a steady diet of news-side liberalism. Attempts to build leftist talk radio never gained altitude because liberals had little complaint with most major dailies, the networks, and of course, the government-subsidized Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Ross Mackenzie

Ross Mackenzie lives with his wife and Labrador retriever in the woods west of Richmond, Virginia. They have two grown sons, both Naval officers.

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