Blaming the consumers for the product?
posted at 2:39 pm on March 16, 2009 by Ed Morrissey
The newspaper industry faces the deepest crisis in the industry’s history. Who and what are to blame? Technological advances that have shifted delivery strategies away from newsprint? Poor performance by management, combined with inflexible labor demands? Editorial bias and failure to deliver consistent and objective reporting?
According to Kathleen Parker, it’s none of these. It’s all the fault of the buh-loggers and “drive-by” pundits:
The biggest challenge facing America’s struggling newspaper industry may not be the high cost of newsprint or lost ad revenue, but ignorance stoked by drive-by punditry.
Yes, Dittoheads, you heard it right.
Drive-by pundits, to spin off of Rush Limbaugh’s “drive-by media,” are non-journalists who have been demonizing the media for the past 20 years or so and who blame the current news crisis on bias. …
Unfortunately, the chorus of media bashing from certain quarters has succeeded in convincing many Americans that they don’t need newspapers. The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press recently found that fewer than half of Americans — 43 percent — say that losing their local newspaper would hurt civic life in their community “a lot.” Only 33 percent say they would miss the local paper if it were no longer available.
Well, let’s try a reality check here. Newspaper subscriptions keep falling almost as fast as Wall Street, and have for a much longer period. If consumers discovered that they really did miss that newsprint sitting on their porch, ready to reveal yesterday’s news, wouldn’t they re-subscribe? The failure to win back customers who have wandered away from the delivery model should give Parker her first clue that it’s not a bunch of ankle-biters deluding newspaper consumers into believing in the irrelevance of the printed product. Not only have they concluded that losing the print newspapers won’t impact their lives, they’ve more or less discovered that by leaving and not coming back.
And I have to question a strategy which attempts to shift blame onto an industry’s consumers by declaring them too stupid to know what’s good for them.
The problem with the industry isn’t as much with the product as with the delivery. Even newspapers barely treading water note that their websites get lots of traffic — even steady increases. That comes from greater access by their consumers to broadband connectivity, allowing them to instantly access information. With that kind of access, who needs the daily dead-tree drop to stay informed? The problem isn’t consumer interest, it’s monetizing the consumer interest. Until they solve that problem, the dead-tree media will continue to have more and more financial problems related to high costs and low demand.
Parker also forgets that the chorus usually comprises the best media consumers — people who peruse several newspapers a day, watch the wires to see what is and is not covered, and the cable news networks. We are the very same consumers that the Washington Post should cultivate, not dismiss as “bashers” as people out to destroy the industry. My friend Jazz Shaw buys into the meme:
This, of course, has caused the usual – list – of – suspects to rise up on their hind legs and howl in protest, claiming that Parker is no longer a “real conservative” or that she has sold out to the corrupt and dying dead tree media machine. The truly delicious bit of irony in posts by her detractors is that they all share one trait: they are linking to an article in a newspaper.
There are two issues with this argument I’d like to cover. First, no matter what value or quality you may feel remains (or is lacking) in the professional journalists who work in and operate the newspapers, the fact is that bloggers would be leading a pretty lonely life without them. I decided to take a very brief look at the latest entries from two large volume blogs, one from the Left and one from the Right, and see where they are getting their “news” to comment on.
Well, we link to a lot more than just newspapers. In the list of Hot Air posts Jazz uses, he includes a clip from CNN and the AP feed at Yahoo. Those aren’t newspapers; CNN competes with newspapers in the media market, and the AP both works with and competes with newsprint, especially with its Yahoo and other partnerships. Parker is quite specific to the newspaper in her article, but Jazz wanders into an argument that bloggers want to see all media collapse.
At least for me, I’ve never wanted to see newspapers go under (Jazz assures me that he didn’t mean to use me as an example of someone who does). I’d like them to do a better job reporting the news and give a broader perspective than many do, and I suspect they might get better business if they did. I criticize newspapers for delivering a lousy product, in my estimation, when they deliver a lousy product. As a consumer of these newspapers, don’t I have that latitude? And neither Parker nor Jazz account for the traffic that gets directed to these sites through the links on our posts, which in some cases might be considerably more than what the article would otherwise have received. Not for nothing do newspaper websites include widgets that note the most linked, most e-mailed articles on their sites.
The notion that criticism equates to some nihilistic purpose is absurd, anyway. These same newspapers employ film critics, who will savage lousy movies in very entertaining ways on occasion. Does that make newspapers responsible for downturns in the film industry? Will Parker aim her pen at book critics, who by her calculation might contribute to the demise of another dead-tree media format? Of course not. Doing so would be as silly as blaming critics of newspapers for their poor performance, or their readers for being too stupid to realize how important Parker is.
Here’s a poll for Hot Air readers: Do you want newspapers to go out of business? We’ll revisit this on the Ed Morrissey Show this afternoon:
Update: The Seattle Post-Intelligencer goes web-only:
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which has chronicled the news of the city since logs slid down its steep streets to the harbor and miners caroused in its bars before heading north to Alaska’s gold fields, will print its final edition Tuesday.
Hearst Corp., which owns the 146-year-old P-I, said Monday that it failed to find a buyer for the newspaper, which it put up for a 60-day sale in January after years of losing money. Now the P-I will shift entirely to the Web.
“Tonight will be the final run, so let’s do it right,” publisher Roger Oglesby told the newsroom.
Hearst’s decision to abandon the print product in favor of an Internet-only version is the first for a large American newspaper, raising questions about whether the company can make money in a medium where others have come up short.
More newspapers will probably have to go this route if they want to remain solvent. They’ll also need to concentrate on local and regional news and forego national and international issues, relying on wire-service partners for any needed content in these areas.