Pulitzer’s Legacy: The Decline of Print in America

The Los Angeles Times announced yesterday it would close the doors on its Chatsworth plant and consolidate production into three downtown facilities, eliminating 110 jobs. This news comes on the heels of the Tribune Company’s decision to cut 85 Times newsroom jobs from its workforce in November.

“These are not easy decisions and we are not taking them lightly,” publisher Jeff Johnson said earlier this year. “However, given the current business climate, we feel these reductions are absolutely essential to succeed in 2006 and beyond.”

It’s been a difficult year for the newspaper industry. Flagging circulation, corporate mismanagement and lost advertising revenue have trimmed more than 2,000 staff jobs from major newspapers around the country (above figures don’t take into consideration smaller regional or local pulications). The New York Times Company has slashed close to 700 positions alone.

It appears it doesn’t pay to publish.

Except it does. Despite the gnashing of teeth from traditional media about soaring costs, newspapers do turn a profit… just not enough of one for its shareholders. Newspaper chain Knight Ridder posted a 19% increase in earnings last year — impressive by any Wall Street standards — yet even that draws ire from investors. And while subscriptions and advertising revenue are down (a trend that started decades ago), those reading the paper are among the most lucrative and desirable demographics in the United States — affluent, educated men and women.

So I find it amusing when I hear editors bemoan the state of print journalism. Cutting jobs to maximize corporate profits results in crappier papers that only survive in the short-term. Blaming the downturn of print’s prominence in daily life on “the current business climate” is just deflection.

The reason people are abandoning both print and televised media is they are no longer amused by the lies they peddle. They find real political and national news elsewhere, and see for what they are the whitewash jobs. Perhaps if the Times devoted some of its reporters to actually reporting how events really unfold it’d regain some readership.

Don’t hold your breath.

It’s become obvious that print and broadcast journalism is not concerned with serving as a mouthpiece of our nation. They’re a cog in a larger corporate machine — most, if not all major papers nationwide are owned by larger diversified interests — and must respond accordingly. The owner’s political interests, the reputation of one’s advertisers and the overall clampdown on press freedoms rank a little higher than whether or not the readers feels the front page headline is accurate.

It’s why liberal columnists are fired and replaced with ones who think we shouldn’t care we were lied into war with Iraq. Newspapers and television do not care what the customer thinks, only how their bosses and advertisers react.

That’s why ad revenues continue to plummet. There’s a direct correlation between devaluing your buyers and them turning elsewhere for better product. Nobody likes a pretentious liar, particularly one entrusted by the public to fairly and accurately report the news.

I can visit various internet sites free of the sleazy partisan demagoguery one would find on CNN or FOX News. I get the news the way it’s meant to be disseminated — unbiased and unabashed. Readership has been soaring online in part because of the ease of accessing the World Wide Web, but mainly because it allows people to get their news unfiltered.

When I think about the tepid response traditional media outlets have paid the numerous spy scandals coursing through Capitol Hill right now — for Pete’s sake, Duke Cunningham just resigned in disgrace over bribery and as many as 60 Congressmen may be tied to scuzzball Jack Abramoff — I look at how the web broke these stories. The Downing Street Memo, Plamegate, detainee torture — who brought these stories to light?

When the world was rallying against the U.S. military invasion of Iraq in 2003, who exposed the lies that brought us into battle and who trumpeted the government’s message? Even now, who continues to press for indictments against the White House Iraq Group and who wants Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to give up and head back to Chicago?

The press has no one to blame but themselves for their disintegrating readership. People are tired of reading bullshit and have moved on to better sources of information. No amount of reorganization or job cutting will make a newspaper a viable source of news to someone who has tasted the real deal.

Joseph Pulitzer’s name should confuse no one. A man of wealth and means, he built his fortune crusading against “government corruption, lotteries, gambling, and tax fraud.” His battle with the government over fraudulent payments by the United States to the French Panama Canal Company won victories for the press while humiliating Theodore Roosevelt and J.P. Morgan, and his legacies of the Pulitzer Prize and the Columbia School of Journalism serve as reminders of the benefits a free and truthful press in our society.

Last month, his flagship paper, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, went down in flames. One hundred thirty employees left the paper due to a corporate buyout by Lee Enterprises. “I was unable to come to terms with management on the conditions that would have encouraged me to stay here,” said the exiting editor-in-chief.

Cutting jobs for corporate health. All at the expense of the reader — and the truth. If the Post-Dispatch’s obituary isn’t a fitting depiction of the press in general, I don’t know what is.