Thursday, March 27, 2008

How important are newspapers?

Last night I read "Out of Print – The death and life of the American newspaper" in the March 31st issue of the New Yorker. It’s by Eric Alterman, who, among other things, is a columnist for The Nation, a fellow of the Nation Institute, and blogs at Altercation.

"Out of Print" is a great read. The bottom line:”Few believe that newspapers in their current printed form will survive. Newspaper companies are losing advertisers, readers, market value, and, in some cases, their sense of mission at a pace that would have been barely imaginable just four years ago.”

Do we need newspapers? Alterman thinks so, and I’m inclined to agree with him. With blogging in mind, each morning I check The New York Times and the The Washington Post. Then I check four well-known blogs, Juan Cole’s Informed Comment, Glenn Greenwald’s Unclaimed Territory. Scott Horton’s No Comment, and Steve Clemons’s The Washington Note. All of these bloggers are frequently “in the field,” and share what they learn first-hand. However, I’ve observed that they also rely on the newspapers to learn what’s going on. Often they don’t agree, but they use newspapers as a springboard for their posts. I, in turn, rely on these and other bloggers to help me understand what’s going on. Then I attempt to distill what I learn into a few paragraphs for my blog.

Virtually all of the actual reporting is done by reporters for newspapers, who have the financial and logistical support to cover the news where it’s happening. What if these reporters stopped reporting because the newspapers folded, as Alterman predicts? How will bloggers find out what’s going on?

As I think about this, I’m wondering if in fact there are plenty of people who are observing what’s going on and are reporting on it, but not in newspapers. For instance, there’s Nir Rosen, who wrote the excellent In the Belly of the Green Bird: The Triumph of the Martyrs in Iraq and many articles, including "The Myth of the Surge." Rosen has spends time with the Sunnis, Shiites and our solders in Iraq.

Pepe Escobar also comes to mind. Described as an “extreme traveler,” he interviewed Masoud, the anti-Taliban leader of the Northern Alliance, shortly before he was assassinated (”Masoud: From warrior to statesman,” (Sept. 11, 2001). After visiting the tribal areas of Pakistan in August of 2001, he warned ”Get Osama! Now! Or else …”

And how are magazines doing? I’m consistently finding excellent articles in the New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Harper's Magazine, etc. Are they going under, too?

I don’t have an answer to how important newspapers are to our being an informed citizenry, I’m just thinking out loud.

1 comment:

Weedgardener said...

I read 9 newspapers and wire services before I get out of bed in the morning--all on line. The availability of online news is surely a factor in the decline of print press.

But from what I've read, it's not that papers are losing money--it's that they're not making big enough piles of money to satisfy the corporations that now own most newspapers.

These distant owners are greedy for double-digit profits, and will cut corners if a paper is making only modest profits.

This means getting rid of reporters, so less actual news is covered; getting rid of copyeditors, fact checkers and other staff, so news is presented less coherently. It's like killing the goose that laid the golden eggs; readers who want real news are going elsewhere. Pity.