Friday, December 26, 2008

New liberal media: Progressives should buy newspapers

By Jason Salzman

It’s time for the liberal media to become a reality—rather than a talking point for conservatives.

Newspapers are for sale across the country, from Florida to California, and they’re available at bargain rates. A rich liberal philanthropist should take this opportunity to buy a newspaper or two, and show conservatives that liberals can run a newspaper with a strong progressive voice on the opinion page and strict fairness and accuracy in news reporting.

The properties to choose from include the Austin American-Statesman, Daytona Beach (FL) News-Journal, Denver’s Rocky Mountain News, and San Diego Union-Tribune, among others. Most of these newspapers are owned by public companies whose shareholders are howling because they’re watching their stock drop and hearing that newspapers can’t survive in the Internet age.

And the fact is, newspaper circulation is dropping along with advertising revenue due to the double whammy of the recession and the migration of readers to the Internet, where newspaper articles are available for free. In particular, the loss of classified advertising to the Internet (see Craigslist) has been a huge problem for big daily newspapers, which once earned consistent double digit profits.

These changes in the media landscape, coupled with the economic crisis, have led to the recent closure of brand name papers, such as the Albuquerque Tribune and the Cincinnati Post. But just because Wall Street is pushing public companies out of the newspaper business, and privately held media like the Tribune Company are facing bankruptcy or serious cash crunches, doesn’t mean the newspaper industry is doomed.

Common sense says there will always be a need for mass-market advertising, and we humans seem to have an innate interest in the news, even if infotainment may be more effective at attracting the attention of so many of us than serious journalism. Interestingly, while paid circulation of newspapers is down, readership has actually increased dramatically, due to all the free visitors to newspaper websites.

Long-time newspaper analyst John Morton believes big-city dailies will return to profitability when the economy improves, though he says the days of big-time profits will not likely be seen again. Also, newspapers are generating more revenue from online advertising, so newspaper websites will likely turn a profit some day. But we don’t know when.

Adjustments to the familiar model of newspaper delivery may boost profits as well, such as the experiment in Detroit, announced in mid-December, of delivering the newspaper three days per week—and requiring subscribers to access the news online the rest of the week.

So there’s plenty of hope for the business, which we rely on for the information we need to make decisions in the voting booth and to hold government accountable.

But there’s a real need for philanthropists with deep pockets to cover losses at newspapers while they adjust to the changing information environment. Hence the need for those liberal donors.

They can swoop down and show Fox News what the liberal media looks like. They can insist that their newspapers, unlike Fox, contain credible news reporting strictly adhering to the ethics of professional journalism.

This includes not only basic fairness, but credible sourcing, fact checking, thorough research, and breadth in coverage and points of view. In so doing, rich liberals would be affirming the importance of newspapers—and reliable information about local, national, and international issues—in a democracy.

Now is the time for philanthropists to step forward and create the liberal media, but do it within the confines of professional journalism.

(Distributed by Minuteman Media)

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