SMALLER NEWSPAPERS, BIGGER CONGLOMERATES

Thursday, October 23, 2008   |   Posted by Jim Hightower
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Daily newspapers are getting smaller and shallower. The shrinkage is not from a lack of news, but because the conglomerate chieftains and bankers who now control America’s print media lack any commitment to journalism.

Newspapers are literally shrinking in size, both in terms of width and number of pages, which shrinks the news hole. Stories are not merely shorter, they’re now “storyettes,” often only four or five paragraphs.

The most damning shrinkage, though, is in the news staff, which, after all, is the heart of journalism. Conglomerate suits, focused on producing 30-percent or so annual profit for faraway investors, choke newsroom budgets to the gagging point. So, there are fewer reporters to go get stories, no willingness by corporate editors to assign investigative reports that require long leadtimes, and more reliance on less-experienced, lower-paid, part-time or contract reporters.

The Chicago Tribune, among other papers, is even shifting reporters to piece work. Rather than focus on journalistic quality, the news staffers get paid by the column inches they produce, putting a premium on quick, superficial reporting.

The honchos at conglomerate headquarters blame rising newsprint costs and declining ad revenues as their reason for slashing the news budgets. But their dirty little secret is that conglomerate ownership itself is the culprit. Not only are managers forced to transfer more money from news operations into the pockets of wealthy investors, but millions of dollars are siphoned out of newsrooms every month to meet the outrageous debt payments that top executives ran up in the newspaper takeover frenzy of the last few years. In other words, paying for the creation of the conglomerates – not newsprint costs – is what’s killing newspapers.

Now there’s a good news story. But I doubt you're going to read about it in your local daily.

“Study: Quality shrinks with newsrooms,” The Times-Picayune, July 21, 2008.

“Newspaper in Minneapolis Halts Its debt Payments,” The New York Times, October 2, 2008.

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