Town Square

News analysis: Vanishing voices in media

Original post made on Nov 14, 2007

It's not unusual for industries to face unprecedented financial pressures, a declining reach of product and massive consolidation in today's global marketplace. But a variety of observers are sounding an alarm about the radical changes occurring in one industry -- journalism, and newspapers in particular.

Related stories:

  • Palo Altans have mixed views of news trends

  • Tales of two journalists

  • Map showing Bay Area newspapers owned by MediaNews

    Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, November 14, 2007, 8:46 AM
  • Comments

    Like this comment
    Posted by Bye-Bye-Buggywhips
    a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
    on Nov 14, 2007 at 6:30 pm

    The fact that this article has not had one comment all day long speaks volumes about the impact of the loss of “journalism” (or Bay Area journalism at least) to the public. Various claims from academic sources about the “media being the nervous system of democracy” need to be viewed in terms of the displacement of print media with that of the Internet. Print media has been typically “one way”, where unnamed editors would all-too-frequently pontificate about this, that or the other while never revealing their sources. The media has been manipulative in ways that sometimes takes decades to uncover. Certainly the name “yellow journalism” did not come about for no good reason.

    Consider the case of Walter Duranty, a NY Times reporter who won a Pulitzer helping Stalin to cover up the Ukrainian Genocide. Even when Duarty’s association with Communist handlers became known within the last ten years, the Pulitzer Committee decided that once a Pulitzer was awarded, it could not be rescinded—even though the reporter might have been on the “take” from the agent of a foreign government. (So much for the integrity of a Pulitzer Prize.)

    Some of the claims about “less volume of news” seem disingenuous in the light of electronic distribution of information these days. Certainly newspapers need to be looking at how to use automation to read through the vast volumes of material now available on-line to reduce the tedium of reading thousands of pages of material that might not have any real value. Time is money—a dictum that the newspapers have not always understood.

    The point about “news” reaching readers is debatable. Anyone interested in the news now has access to thousands of WEB-sites. Aren’t people getting the news from these sources rather than the print versions? Of course, the real issue is profitability of the print media. The Weekly’s article does not deal with this all-too-important question. If the media does not make money, then ultimately both the WEB and print versions of newspapers will disappear. The Weekly’s article is heavy with “academic” sources, but surprisingly light on the views of real life publishers and editors who actually know how newspapers work, rather than talking about vagaries like “democracy”.

    A hundred years ago, the buggy-whip factories of America were about to see their futures extinguished by a new technology called “internal combustion engines”. Newspapers are probably on the same ledge as the buggy whip manufacturers were a century ago. Newspapers need to be seriously looking at business models in the “Internet Age”, which necessarily includes the question: “how many newspapers does one “wired” city need?”

    Like this comment
    Posted by yup, not surprised.
    a resident of Midtown
    on Nov 14, 2007 at 7:36 pm

    Agree 100% with Buggy. I have had enough of attempts to manipulate me. Give me the data, the full data, and nothing but the data, and I will draw my own conclusions. Don't give me only the facts that support "your view",..and don't give me "facts" that are made up.

    If I want to read an editorial, I want it CALLED an editorial.

    That is why I get my news from the sources as much as possible, and read all sides.

    Like this comment
    Posted by Mike
    a resident of College Terrace
    on Nov 14, 2007 at 9:38 pm

    There are only a few nespapers worthy of being read any more - for the "big ticket" news. The NYT and Washington Post come to mind.

    That said, for local news at the micro-level, small weekly's and daily's are valuable sources of information.

    I may disdagree with the editorial stance - and even some reporting - coming from the local print sources, but I can't imagine our community without them.

    Certainly, Web 2.0 is not the answer to our news and information needs - yet.

    For those that think print journalism is going the way of the buggywhip, a course in the "Future of Journalism 101" is in order.

    If anything, the people who *finance* print, and leverage it's presence with advertising, will be around for LONG time.

    There is a BIG future for "print" journalism, as it morphs to other modalities, including "digital print", as dsiplayed on ePaper.

    Don't Blink!

    Like this comment
    Posted by John Campbell
    a resident of Old Palo Alto
    on Nov 15, 2007 at 10:58 pm

    When Sin claps his broad wings over the battle,
    And sails rejoicing in the flood of Death;
    When souls are torn to everlasting fire,
    And fiends of Hell rejoice upon the slain.
    O who can stand? O who hath caused this?

    O thy lazy journalist. Did!

    Democracy will sleep now.

    Like this comment
    Posted by trudy
    a resident of Crescent Park
    on Nov 16, 2007 at 6:01 am

    I can't imagine not having small local newspapers. There is no other complete source of local news. (How are you guys doing, by the way?)

    The big guys, well, I can live without them in print form. There is plenty of news on the Internet, paid for, one hopes, by the ads on the web sites, and with more diverse voices than one newspaper has. Plus there are foreign news sources, which have always been more objective than U.S. news.

    Like this comment
    Posted by Bye-Bye-Buggywhips
    a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
    on Nov 16, 2007 at 12:53 pm

    > there are foreign news sources, which have always
    > been more objective than U.S. news.

    Over the past hundred years, or so, would anyone say that the Press in: Germany, Japan, Italy, The Former Soviet Union, China, Cambodia and Viet Nam (countries which have been under Fascist and/or Communist governments and whose populations comprised about half of the total population on the plant) was "more objective that the US Press"?

    As recently as June of this year, there was a report about bias in the BBC (UK):

    Web Link

    BBC report finds bias within corporation

    By Gary Cleland
    Last Updated: 1:09am BST 18/06/2007

    The BBC has failed to promote proper debate on major political issues because of the inherent liberal culture of its staff, a report commissioned by the corporation has concluded.

    The report claims that coverage of single-issue political causes, such as climate change and poverty, can be biased - and is particularly critical of Live 8 coverage, which it says amounted to endorsement.

    Most large papers have become the political arm of some government, or political party/movement, at one time or another.

    And as to local news--who among us really believes that any of the local papers provides "the complete truth" about anything?

    Like this comment
    Posted by A.L.
    a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
    on Nov 16, 2007 at 2:15 pm

    I don't think that the "public is not upset" - I think the public just doesn't think anything can be done.

    I have watched the decline in news quality for the past 15 years with utter dismay. I can't think of a time in my life when the quality of news has been so poor.

    One sad outcome of the cuts has been a tendency of news organizations to recycle stories written by other journalists and do no investigation of their own. Sometimes they will serve up something directly from industry PR or an AP story. I've seen reporters with an axe to grind deliberately serve up the wrong information and it gets repeated in multiple papers and online, eventually becoming a very hard to counteract false "truth."

    One writer will pen a story - again, sadly, often with an unjournalistic bias that serves some moneyed interest (whether journalists are always unwitting participants in this bias is a question) - and other news outlets will reprint a warmed over version over and over again without thinking. The insurance industry in particular has played the media like a fiddle for years because of this.

    We do need a reality check. I was in China before and during the Tiananmen massacre. We got CNN live, unedited feed everywhere in China. Sure, the papers were censured, but there was still a surprising amount of news, and you get used to reading between the lines. The news was really fantastic in Hong Kong. But when I got home to the US, I felt like there was far less news and less objective news than even when we were IN China.

    Things change. Our media -though never perfect -is not nearly what it was during, say, the Watergate years. We have to stop smugly assuming that we are superior at doing everything, and take stock once in awhile. "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance."

    Like this comment
    Posted by henry
    a resident of Downtown North
    on Nov 16, 2007 at 8:14 pm

    This story was evidence of why newspapers are going downhill ... it's one sided ... While MediaNews wouldn't talk to you (and who could blame them---they knew what kind of story a competitor would write), you could at least find people in the publishing industry who would explain their point of view.

    While you bash consolidation, would many of these papers survive on their own? My guess is that the smaller ones, like the San Mateo County Times, would have vanished by now if it had not been for chain ownership keeping them alive through economies of scale.

    And you frequently imply or quote people who say MediaNews is raking in the big bucks. But you're so lazy that you didn't even look up their quarterly earning statements which are filed with the SEC. They show that in the last quarter MediaNews lost money. Funny, isn't it, how that fact didn't make your story.

    Changes your view of this mean awful chain, doesn't it? The real picture is that MediaNews is probably hanging on by the skin of its teeth, robbing Peter to pay Paul to keep papers alive that, by all rights, would have died years ago.

    You also didn't mention that the Palo Alto weekly is, itself, part of a chain that includes newspapers in Pleasanton, Danville, Mtn. View, Menlo Park and Marin County.

    And what is the profit margin of the Weekly's owner, the Embarcadero chain? Why do you have so few reporters covering Palo Alto and these other cities when you're making that much money?

    You make a blanket, unattributed statement that readers are leaving newspapers for the Internet. I know some people think that -- media people obsess about the Internet. But bias is another reason why people have left newspapers. But you're in denial when it comes to bias -- you can't possibly believe that's a major factor behind the fall of newspapers and you've convinced yourself that you're not biased. But the readers have been voting with their feet for a long time -- circulation was falling long before the Internet came along.

    Like this comment
    Posted by Radie
    a resident of Downtown North
    on Nov 17, 2007 at 12:08 am

    "For serious journalism to triumph, consumers must demand quality and be willing to pay for it."

    Excuse me, there's nothing to pay for. Note to newspapers: write something worth paying for and people will pay to read. Don't fire your investigative staff, hire more of them. Write fluff and you'll have no one to blame but yourself for your decline.

    Another note to newspapers: don't tell me you value investigative news. Show me your account books and I'll tell you what you value.

    Your advertising staff gets paid more than your reporters.

    Like this comment
    Posted by Radie
    a resident of Downtown North
    on Nov 17, 2007 at 9:44 am

    Right on. Reporters work long hours and get paid less than what's considered poverty in the Bay Area and that's no fault of the reader, its the fault of the publisher not get his priorities straight or a publisher that's too greedy.
    Try $29,000 a year for a starting reporter at the Weekly. How much good reporting are you going squeeze out of $29,000? The SF Chronicle reported that a person living in the Bay Area could only scrape by with at least $35,000. A person could honestly make more money bar tending than working as a reporter in the Bay Area.
    Why would anyone want to bust their buns for that kind of poverty, except if you're right out of school and have little to no experience? And with someone with little to no experience, you probably aren't going to get the serious, cantankerous and in depth reporting people seek. The novice reporter simply does not know how to do it except for report the obvious.
    Reporters also are too afraid to challenge their editors for fear of looking too smart, and the editors are too afraid to challenge those with power in the community for fear those in power will not talk.
    So you have stagnantion from the top down and the readers get fluff because no one wants to lose their livelihoods and a barely respectable stream of news in order to garner advertising.

    Like this comment
    Posted by Marie
    a resident of Old Palo Alto
    on Nov 18, 2007 at 2:33 pm

    There is tremendous danger to democracy when the control of mass media is in the hands of a few, and yet we, the people, seem indifferent to the threat. What’s wrong with us? Could it be that our indifference is getting us what we deserve?

    My high school class has been getting the San Jose Mercury News for many years. There was a time when I could use its articles and editiorials as examples of good writing. Now I use its contents for examples of poor research, poor writing and poor editing.

    I try to teach my students to think analytically, to develop their higher order thinking skills; however, there is nothing much to think about in today’s mass media.

    Like this comment
    Posted by A.L.
    a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
    on Nov 18, 2007 at 7:00 pm

    Here, here, Marie! I am in total agreement over the slide in quality at the Mercury News!

    Here's what I would pay for - and PREFER to have online than in print:

    Quality news, with some customization for my area and interests.

    Good local advertising that allowed me to quickly find out about sales and available coupons and download them, again, customizable to my interests.

    The ability to upload articles with citations to some kind of research database (don't know if they exist - newspapers should look into it). Being able to "clip" electronic articles and electronically sort them for later use would be something I would be willing to pay a subscription for. If this feature were somehow universal so that I could "clip" articles on Infotrac, online science journals, etc., I would be even MORE willing to pay for it. But of course, the newspapers would have to be the kind of high quality news that Marie spoke of in the SJ Merc's past.

    The ability to quickly scan the content of the day's news and easily upload articles of interest (and the funny papers) to some kind of affordable, reasonably easy-to-read hand-held device so I can read the "paper" over breakfast and in the reading room (ahem), no newsprint to throw out. If such devices were really truly easy to use and affordable, I think newspapers could sell subscriptions this way. I'm not sure the technology for such a thing exists yet, or if it does, it's probably not affordable. Me, personally, I don't even want a FREE subscription to the Merc anymore because I don't think the hassle is worth it.

    I'd love even more if such a hand-held device allowed me to download articles from current magazines, too. I have only a very few magazines that are really worth getting in print (Sunset, Smithsonian), the rest I'd be very happy to get on a portable device. (I'm afraid it would have to be larger than an iPod.) A "clip" feature that allowed me to earmark certain articles for transfer to the research database when I hooked up to my computer again would be even better.

    The real breakthrough technology, IMO, is anything that brings seamless integration of different devices and functions. The ability to add functionality without having to learn a bunch of arcane stuff that will be obsolete next year. Right now, I use all of my technology inefficiently because every last d$%^ thing requires so much work and fiddling. (This is a big reason we don't have paperless office, it's still usually just easier to print because transferring and using the information in other ways is just so time intensive and difficult.)

    If newspapers could bring good news, electronically - delivered in a smart way, IN A WAY THAT RESPECTS THE **TIME** OF READERS, I believe this could be successful. People can't and don't want to sit at their computers all day, so the purely online model shouldn't be the only aim of the future.

    Like this comment
    Posted by anonymous
    a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
    on Nov 19, 2007 at 9:36 am

    I also agree about the sad decline of the Mercury. I used to really like and read that paper years ago.
    A.L. writes of "industry P.R." affecting so-called journalism - wow, that's putting it mildly. Since I was educated in advertising and public relations, I know to look out for it, but a lot of the reading public is unsuspecting. Do not believe everything you read. It is really dismaying. Of course, this also applies to the internet...

    Like this comment
    Posted by Bye-Bye-Buggywhips
    a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
    on Nov 19, 2007 at 1:15 pm

    > I'd love even more if such a hand-held device allowed
    > me to download articles from current magazines, too

    Over the past couple of years Sony has been active trying to productize and market a hand-held device using a technology called e-Ink (a plastic material containing a matrix that can be controlled to make characters which have high resolution and are very readable). This device does not have to constantly power the matrix, so once the page is formed it draws no power until the next page is called for. These devices will hold hundreds of books, or other properly formatted materials. While pricey ($295 at Fry's), they seem to provide a working example of a viable e-Book.

    Now Amazon is jumping on the bandwagon, introducing its own version of an e-Reader that provides a wireless interface to so that books can be purchased on-line with the push of a button:

    Web Link

    Can It Kindle the Imagination?

    We read the fine print on Amazon's new gadget.
    By Steven Levy
    Updated: 9:21 AM ET Nov 19, 2007

    Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos says that the Kindle may be the most important thing he's ever done. But how well does it work? As the first journalist to get his hands on the device, I found it fit my hands pretty well. It's comfortable to hold, and the huge NEXT PAGE and PREVIOUS PAGE buttons on the sides make it easy to keep reading at a steady pace. On the other hand, the prominence of those buttons makes it almost impossible to pick the Kindle up without inadvertently turning a virtual page.

    This device is also pricey ($395), but now that there are two major players in the market, hopefully the costs of these devices will begin to drop. Other issues involve "Klutzy" interfaces--which hopefully will see both hardware and software design processes brought to bear to reduce the difficulties of using these devices.

    The "times .. they are a changin'".

    Like this comment
    Posted by Darrell Batchelder
    a resident of Woodside
    on Nov 19, 2007 at 11:10 pm

    Just read the article and all the comments. I'm from the old school and remember Watergate (All the President's Men). That was what excited me about journalism. The high and the mighty brought down by a pen not a sword. The internet's problem is few sites print multiple sides to issues. And TV is not producing any more Walter Cronkites. The "right" has Fox News and then says everyone else is liberal. This plays well to about 20% of America but 20% is a very large market and every other media spreads the remaining 80% into pieces smaller than 15% each.

    What to do? At least the Merc has an editorial page and prints not only divergent opinions but enough letters to the editor to attempt some balance. I still subscribe and read cuz' it's better than anything else locally, but you can see and feel the lack of coverage. There are a lot of little, 80-word summary stories hardly worth reading. It's a shame and I don't have the answer other than to have a Teddy Roosevelt type break up the conglomerates. If they said no one company could own more than 10% of newspaper circulation, that might get us moving back to multiple papers in each city. They can't own TV and radio stations in the same market either because then there is no one to break bad news if the parent company doesn't want it out.

    We're losing our democracy slowly and most don't see it for what it is. Sad. We don't teach civics in schools much any more. Few understand separation of powers and three co-equal branches of govt., certainly our President doesn't believe in the Constitution and co-equal branches.

    It's amazing what's happened in the last seven years under Bush. Appoint friends who want to tear down the very departments they are hired to run. Look the other way at Justice. Hire cronies for FEMA. Get people who don't respect the environment to run that dept. Round up 5,000 people who look to be from the Middle East and six years later not have one conviction -- it's just amazing. I can still read Newsweek, WSJ and Esquire but it doesn't help me in understanding issues here on the Peninsula. I just hope our kids wake up and realize how they are being manipulated. Actually a lot of adults don't know (or don't care or don't believe anything can change) too. It's up to us to make it happen. Who will lead? And who is interested enough to follow?

    Like this comment
    Posted by good grief
    a resident of Midtown
    on Nov 20, 2007 at 9:34 am

    The fault lies at the very heart of education and ideology. About 30 years ago a philosophy of "the ends justifies the means" swept through education, journalism and legal models...we started getting "activist" journalists, educators and judges..

    Thus the slide into a poverty of intellectual honesty and integrity. It doesn't matter if you can't spell or if you don't know the law...or if you slant the news or ignore some tenets of the long as it is "for the greater (left) good".

    Our mass media is no better than England's and Europe's now. Thank God for the internet.

    Like this comment
    Posted by good grief
    a resident of Midtown
    on Nov 20, 2007 at 9:37 am

    Darrel: Yes, Bush, the idiot, has single-handedly destroyed journalism, democracy, world opinion, economy, education, brought on global warming, ocean's acidity, the African fratricides, the rise of socialism/communism in Venezuela..and is the reason my toilet doesn't work.

    What are you going to do when he isn't president anymore? Oh yes..blame the NEXT Republican president.

    Like this comment
    Posted by good grief
    a resident of Midtown
    on Nov 20, 2007 at 9:38 am

    Darrel: Who will lead?

    With any luck, the ones who aren't sheep.

    Like this comment
    Posted by good grief
    a resident of Midtown
    on Nov 20, 2007 at 9:40 am

    Oh, and Darrell: Does journalism work only when it is going after a Republican? That seems to be the model we have seen since 2000. That is yet another reason it has lost all credibility. The majority of us who voted in Republicans in 2,000 and 2004 watched the media play yellow journalism one time too many times.

    Like this comment
    Posted by a
    a resident of Barron Park
    on Nov 20, 2007 at 11:25 am

    Interesting how the Weekly completed deleted my harsh criticisms against Bush calling him a traitor, having committed treason in releasing Valeria Plame's name to the public, a war criminal, etc.

    The Weekly completely took it down. Just another example of complete and utter failure of democracy, freedom of speech, and the decline of the media.

    Posted by Name hidden
    a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive

    on Jun 5, 2017 at 12:12 pm

    Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?