Daily Archives: 28 July 2007

Is free-market capitalism good for newspapers?

Time was when newspapers—and newspapermen—were the toast of the town. Feared, quoted, wooed and emulated, plays and movies were made of them. It wasn’t an idyll, of course, but there was a nobility of purpose. They were the eyes and ears of the voiceless, comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.

Suddenly, newspapers worldwide seem to have all pressed the self-destruct button at the same time.

Costs are being cut, jobs are being cut, news coverage is being cut. The traditional mandate of public service “by supplying the information the citizenry needs for democracy to work” has been subjugated. As maximising profit for shareholders and promoters becomes the leit motif, dumbing down and trivialisation have taken root.

Russell Baker takes a look the rapidly diminishing role of newspapers in the New York Review of Books. He quotes John S. Caroll, former editor of the Los Angeles Times, who delivered a landmark speech “What will become of newspapers” at the American Society of Newspaper Editors last year.

There is a “breakdown of understanding between owners and working journalists… a loss of common purpose that once united them.”

“Under the old local owners, a newspaper’s capacity for making money was only part of its value. Today, it is everything. Gone is the notion that a newspaper should lead, that it has an obligation to its community, that it is beholden to the public….

“Someday, I suspect, we will wonder how we allowed the public good to be so deeply subordinated to private gain…. What do the current owners want from their newspapers? The answer could not be simpler: Money. That’s it.”

Read the full article: Goodbye to newspapers?