End-of-Life Doulas
INTERESTING STUFF – 13 August 2016

John Oliver on the Importance of Local Newspapers

On Monday's post about AARP and ALEC, a reader complimented me on my investigative reporting. It's good to know that what I write here is appreciated but in this case and almost all others, I cannot take credit for the information I pass on.

Just your ordinary, everyday, original reporting takes more time that I have to keep up this blog; investigations take days, weeks and years (see Watergate) so I don't do much of that. I rely on the hard work of others.

What I do most of the time is gather existing information about a topic, evaluate it for quality, reliability and interest, edit as makes sense and pass it on in story form and always citing sources.

This is pertinent today because the main video essay on John Oliver's HBO program, Last Week Tonight last Sunday was about what America is losing as its local newspapers are cutting back and shutting down.

I understand from the many polls that journalism is one of the least liked and least respected institutions in the United States and I disagree with that public condemnation.

Yes, I worked in various forms of journalism for most of my career and some would say that makes me prejudiced. I disagree with that too. I know the mistakes that are made (as are made in every kind of business and industry) from the inside; I also know that the largest percentage of news gets it right most of the time; and I know that our democracy, under attack for years from many sides, cannot survive without journalists and without local newspapers.

Our best-known founding father, Thomas Jefferson, apparently never stopped talking about the necessity of a free press to the survival of democracy. There are dozens of quotations about it from him. Here's one:

”Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.”

We are losing too much of our free press, particularly at the local level, and Oliver's essay last week is so true as to make one weep at the end. But not David Chavern, CEO of the Newspaper Association of America.

He's a churlish sort of fellow who can't see the gift Oliver presented to the newspapers his organization represents. Instead, he saw insults, accusing Oliver of

”...making fun of experiments and pining away for days when classified ads and near-monopolistic positions in local ad markets funded journalism is pointless and ultimately harmful...he spends most of the piece making fun of publishers who are just trying to figure it out.”

Not a word of that is true but let me quote Margaret Sullivan, media columnist at the Washington Post, rebutting Mr. Chavern – she does it so well:

”What Oliver did was precisely nail everything that’s been happening in the industry that Chavern represents: The shrinking staffs, the abandonment of important beats, the love of click bait over substance, the deadly loss of ad revenue, the truly bad ideas that have come to the surface out of desperation, the persistent failures to serve the reading public.

“Oliver — who is, after all, in the comedy business — did indeed make fun of Tronc, the renamed Tribune Co., whose incomprehensible corporate jargon thoroughly deserves the drubbing it’s been getting in recent months.

“And he took some well-deserved shots at media’s addiction to content that generates digital traffic, particularly ever-weirder stories about cats.

“And Oliver’s final sequence was a brilliant send-up of the movie Spotlight as it would be in the new newspaper environment.

“In short, Oliver’s piece...was pretty much a love letter to newspapers.”

Now, grab your favorite beverage, sit back, put up your feet and revel in a brilliantly produced appeal to save America's free press.

Newspaper reporters throughout the United States are paddling as fast as they can under increasingly restrictive circumstances. We should be praising them for the work they can manage to accomplish, not vilifying them.

I will leave you with another quotation from Thomas Jefferson with which I heartily agree:

“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”


Talk about your dumbing down. It has been coming since the newspapers began begin bought by corporations. This is even sadder than the prospect of a Trump for president. Where will we be with that combo. (Yeah. just shorten every word to a cutesy one and voila! You get clicks and the corporations get their votes and their money for which they pay little if any taxes.

Self driven chaos into oblivion.

But, thank you, Ronni--what you provide is concise, pointed and relevant gatherings of information. Where else are we going to get that kind of thinking?

Oh, was I FIRST!

In going to estate sales this past year, some of my most interesting finds have been old newspapers. Most have been from the period of 1930's - 1990's, but some have been much older. A recent find of a scrapbook including articles from the late 1800's was very interesting in the depth and eloquence of many of those articles. Even the society pieces were a pleasure to read. Today, our daily newspaper takes me less than five minutes to get through. If I read the ads, it would take much longer, but I mostly disregard those. Even the much bulkier Sunday paper takes only about ten minutes, and still is mostly fluff. Thank goodness for easy access to other news sources, including this one.

My first newspaper job was as a summer intern at a weekly paper in 1955, and I've been involved with media work ever since. I agree with everything you and John Oliver said about the sorry state of newspapers and journalism, and how important this is for our country.

My first job was at a local weekly too, which I fell into from being an "observer" at New England town Selectmen's meetings for the League of Women Voters. (Remember them?) I went on to bigger newspapers, a city magazine, and eventually corporate communications and speech writing, but what I learned as a local reporter has stood me in good stead over all the 50+ years since that first job. It makes me crazy to hear people talk about "the media" as though it were a monolith.

Hear, hear, John Oliver.

Since I have lived in Houston, I have seen the city go from TWO daily papers , to one,
and seen the one paper shrink day by day. The morale at the paper is extremely low, according to folks who still havea job there. So I was recently surprised, pleasantly, to learn that the local paper in the small town where I grew up..that litle paper is flourishing. It is a weekly and , I suppose, by Mr. Oliver's standards it covers only "puppy stories." It covers local events, like the high school football games, the town council meetings, the comings and goings of the townspeople. It had a respectable classified section. I guess the small town folks have not adopted craiglist as yet. I do grieve the demise of the large daily paper.a And I rejoice in the viability of the small town local papers.

I worked in newspapers during my career, and I've seen journalism rise and fall in public regard. During the Watergate years, the public was forced to notice how journalists could uncover corruption at the highest levels, and suddenly every young person aspired to be an investigative journalist. Back then, there were editors who wouldn't print anything until it could be independently verified by at least two sources. These days, I'm told by people still working, there's so much pressure to be first that you go ahead and post something with the idea that if it turns out to be wrong you can always fix it later. I was appalled to learn this.

My local paper has its faults, but it has the great fortune to be locally owned by a family who still believes that making money isn't the only reason to be in business. I read a lot of what's in it, and there are many important stories I don't see elsewhere. Unfortunately, it's also true that my local ain't what it used to be; there have been big staff cuts because of the loss of ad revenue.

There are multiple reasons why newspapers are in bad shape, and John Oliver touched on many of them. I believe that corporate ownership is among the worst of those reasons, because corporate ownership brings jerks like the guy in Oliver's story who used the f word on his staff because they preferred news stories to puppy stories. Corporations, which are increasingly taking over our lives, only care about one thing--making money for their shareholders. They think of newspaper readers as customers who need to be satisfied rather than citizens who need to be informed. I believe it was on Oliver's show that I learned six companies control nearly all the media outlets in our country. Think about that for a minute.

What really depresses me is how politicians blame the media for everything and get away with it. When I hear people say that, I always remind them how crucial a free press is to democracy, and I tell them the deterioration of the media is at least in part because of corporate ownership, not because journalists are biased and arrogant. Fox "News" (I always put quotes around it) isn't news; it's corporatespeak directly from the mouth of Rupert Murdoch. The real-life newspaper reporters and editors I knew toiled doggedly day in and day out for not a lot of money because they believed in the importance of what they did.

Okay, I'll get off my soapbox now. But I think journalism is a noble profession, and it sickens me to see what is happening to it.

I graduated college in 1965 with a degree in journalism. Even then back then I was derided for choosing an "easy" major.

Today it seems most major media outlets (print or electronic) are owned and controlled by the wealthiest few, and the rules for reporting have become "if it bleeds it leads," "don't get it right, just get it first," and "always promote the corporate political position." There seems to be more concern for cowtowing to corporate owners and advertisers than for what the public needs and deserves (not necessarily what it wants). Great impartial investigative journalism -- where?

To those in the business who are still trying to be ethical, honest, and impartial (usually local markets), I say thank you. But I've disowned the rest. To me they no longer deserve to be called journalists. The mainstream media are biased, often proudly so, and it sickens me to see examples of it every day. I'm glad I'm out of the business.

I have to admit I get all my news online these days. Have done so for many years. The world has changed. Barriers have fallen. There's no going back to the days of print-only.

Sometimes I think guiltily that I really ought to subscribe to this paper online, or that one, or that other one over there, especially when I hit a subscription wall for an in-depth article that looks like it would be excellent. But when you live among web searches where results can come from anywhere in the world... if I start that, where do I stop? I can't afford to subscribe to every online paper that momentarily catches my interest.

This is a problem without an easy solution. Local papers aren't just local any more. People who live online receive stories from around the world through multiple news aggregators, from Google News... to, in a very specialized way, Time Goes By! No one news source has a large enough share of anyone's attention to be worth paying for. We can't fix that basic structural issue by wagging a finger.

We can rage against the corporate owners, and yes, their attempted "solutions" are terrible - but the fact remains: journalism done right costs money. Where is that money to come from?

Thankyou! I will subscribe again, for the first time in almost ten years.

Here in the Twin Cities of MN we have a right of center St. Paul paper and what used to be left of center Mpls paper. Enter a local Billionaire to buy the Mpls paper and now both of the papers are right of center in story emphasis and Opinion Page. Really sucks. So after many, many years of subscribing to both newspapers, I'm going to the web. Print media is gone in this area.

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