Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Dead Print, Dead Paper

I'm trying to decide whether or not I want to drop my subscription to Albuquerque's sole surviving daily paper.

I don't want to, y'know, be Part of the Problem. Newspapers are dying. Friends of mine in the newspaper business have been laid off and can't find jobs. Journalism is a (potentially) noble profession and a (potential) valued resource in a democracy. I've subscribed to a daily paper since I first moved out of my parents' home.

But when I look at the Albuquerque Journal these days, I'm inclined to think, "Where's the news?"

Monday's paper was sadly typical. The big headline read Crowds Pack In To Get Pancakes. Another read War On DWIs Far From Over. (I mean, duh . . . ) Below the fold we see Traveling Cat Comes Home. And then there's a feature story about a woman whose restraining orders against her husband don't seem to be working. I'm sorry for her, but that's not front-page news.

The whole front page is tabloid. Looking inside, the international and national news is all AP, NY Times, Washington Post. I can get all that online, and usually do. I'm rarely interested in the sports page. The local news, unsurprisingly, is mainly about Albuquerque, and I don't live in Albuquerque. The editorial pages are nearly all Republicans chanting in unison whatever issue Republican Central tells them to chant about that week. I rarely read the comics page because the pictures have shrunk to the size of postage stamps.

The Journal's decided that its audience is relentlessly trivial and interested only in tabloid news. Maybe that's true, but the strategy is still doomed--- that audience can get a lot more tabloid online than in the pages of the Journal.

"But we can't afford investigative reporters!" I hear them cry. But somehow they can afford the reporters who write the stories about the lost cats and all the sad stories about the mothers of kids who OD on heroin.

Is this worth $171 a year? I am beginning to think it is not.

I already get most of my news online. It's faster, convenient, and free. When, or if, the news finally makes the paper, the paper just reprints the wire story and so doesn't add any of the depth that you might expect from the passage of time.

For heavy-duty analysis, news, and vast amounts of economic statistics, I subscribe to the Economist. For well-written seriousness, we get the New Yorker. For science fiction, I get science fiction zines. For important stories made trivial, as well as hours and hours of live reportage about Tiger Woods' sex life, I can watch CNN. (It was a revelation watching CNN in Europe, though. It had actual news! Lots of it! Obviously CNN has decided that America is full of idiots and that the only people who deserve real news live abroad.)

Local papers haven't been so much killed as hollowed out. They look like newspapers, they just don't have newspaper-like stuff in them any more. It's the end of a tradition--- and maybe American democracy along with it. (After all, when the local papers go, who's going to keep the local politicians honest?)

Though I've been keeping my subscription up more in hope than out of any conviction that the paper will again become a useful part of my life, I still find myself saddened by the thought of dropping my Journal subscription. I seem to see long ghostly lines of people with names like Carolus and de Girardin and Franklin and Dow and de Tocqueville looking at me and shaking their heads.

Sigh. I remember when reporters and editors were heroes instead of lackeys, when they transmitted news instead of press releases. Those days are long gone.

Goodbye, my newspaper. Goodbye.

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7 Comments:

Blogger john_appel said...

We bade farewell to our local paper, the Maryland Gazette (which claims to be America's oldest published newspaper, claiming a 280-year lineage) in the wake of 9/11. They published a story about a local teen, supposedly a volunteer firefighter, who claimed to have been a volunteer at Ground Zero. The story contained such nuggets as him finding a stewardess' body with her hands zip-tied behind her back. He also claimed to be part of a state terrorism-response task force.

Of course none of this turned out to be true, except his age. The kid turned out to have a history of mental issues. The paper eventually published a full retraction. But the fact that the reporter and editorial staff conducted absolutely zero fact-checking before printing this dreck blew their credibility with me forever. (I mean, come on - a 17-year-old part of a state-wide terror-response task force? Doesn't that invite at least a modicum of skepticism?)

The Baltimore Sun is a faint shadow of it's former self. I'm sure H.L. Mencken is spinning in his grave.

6:19 AM  
Blogger Brian Borchers said...

I'm in the same boat. Most days there's nothing in the Journal that I'm interested in beyond the "jumble" puzzle... I'm much happier with the material that I get online from the NY Times, but they're threatening to switch to a pay model- if they do I'll probably drop my subscription to the Albuquerque Journal.

7:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Speaking as the wife who writes the checks, I must say I was doubtful last year whether to pay for the dern thing for another year. The NY Times doesn't have much coverage of NM -- except for that, I don't need the Journal at all. I wish the online New Mexico Independent were better.

--Kathy

8:50 AM  
Anonymous Pat Mathews said...

Well, it is useful to find out what the State and City are doing about their budget processes - and to gt more news about UNM than you find in the Daily Lobo. Stories I've noted: closing the rest stops proposed. Mayor Berry calls for not only pay cuts across the board, but on a sliding scale (wish Schmidly would do that!) and the public employees union going all Crazy Eddie on him - on the only Republican to do the sensible thing instead of play roadblock! No good deed goes unpunished. Etc.

So I'll hang in there a bit longer since the TV news is even more trivial and nobody else does Local. Except the Alibi, and I really don't care that much about GenX popular culture.

6:34 PM  
Blogger Dave Bishop said...

Here, in Manchester, UK we have two local newspapers. The main one is the 'Manchester Evening News', which is given away free in the city centre but is sold in the suburbs (no, I don't understand that business model either!). I've always found it bland and politically very much right of centre. I gave up reading it years ago.

The somewhat more interesting paper, the 'South Manchester Reporter' is delivered free every Thursday night. It is quite supportive of local causes and has a lively letters page. I was recently involved in a big protest campaign against a proposed development on one of our local green spaces. The coverage of this campaign in the SMR was magnificent and, by keeping the campaign in the Public Eye, probably helped to swing the final decision in our favour.

1:49 AM  
Blogger Foxessa said...

The inevitable result of all the local papers now owned by a very few national conglomerates.

A major cause of the end of newspaper reading, like television news watching -- the corporate masters chose to trivialize journalism as well as make it profitable. But their manner of making it profitable ended in them eating their own tails.

However, our days of reading the remaining few giants for free online are distinctly numbered.

Love, C.

8:45 AM  
Anonymous Terry England said...

The Albuquerque Journal was considered a joke among NM journalists long before its current condition (our name for it: Albuquerque Urinal). Sour grapes? Jealousy because it was the biggest paper in NM? Perhaps. But the paper always seemed to lack that edge in reporting, seemingly content to just ride along, collecting ad revenue. The only reason it got a Pulitzer was because its old rival, the Albuquerque Tribune, got one first. This rankled the powers-that-were, so they sniffed around until the found prize-possible topic, the dangers of tryptophan supplements. Still, the story was more driven by the reporter (who not long after winning the prize left) and not by anything the publishers/owner did.

The Journal also was the originator of the beginning of the downfall of the newspaper in America, the joint powers agreement,wherein they shared advertisement, circulation and production with the Tribune. This saved the Tribune from an early death, but it also made it a poor dependent. The JPAs that followed pretty much led to the demise of afternoon papers -- and the elimination of competition. So the Journal and its ilk could get as insipid as they wanted without worrying about being shown up by some scrappy upstart. (It's interesting to note that the Journal -- and its upstate rival, The Santa Fe New Mexican -- still are locally owned despite the drawbacks of that [owner whims, fer instance].)

Newspapers are still struggling with the new media. Paying to get news from NYT or anyone else just follows the old subscription model. Papers like the Journal or the New Mexican will have to focus on being local papers to survive, something neither is doing very well right now. But it's hard to push the old ways aside to make room for the new (says the old newspaperman still without a job).

12:07 PM  

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