James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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Democrats panicky: read all about it (while you still can)

Posted by James McPherson on March 11, 2009

Apparently some Democrats want Barack Obama, in the words of a CNN headline, to “Hurry up and fix the economy.” Put another way, members of the party without guts are joining members of the party without ideas in begging the new president–now in office for more than a month and a half, after all–to undo all that they have done (or failed to do) through greed and  partisanship for the past decade. Perhaps they wanted him to reject the funding bill they just passed, rather than offering threats about future such bills?

And speaking of a part of the economy near and dear to me, my home state legislature is about to approve a tax cut for newspapers (which may not be enough to keep one of the two newspapers in our biggest city from shutting down next week). Even politicians who proclaim to hate the media recognize the importance of newspapers for getting out their messages, and for citizens to be able to govern themselves.

Citizens themselves don’t get that, though–as demonstrated by a Time article listing 10 more newspapers about to fail, and a Wired article saying that even a New York Times employee thinks newspapers don’t matter. He’s wrong, of course. But more and more newspapers are disappearing, and all of us suffer as a result. Face it; even Obama can’t save us from ourselves.

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6 Responses to “Democrats panicky: read all about it (while you still can)”

  1. Mike Ingram said

    First, I love your description of the Dems. Reps have good ideas – its just that when we get into office we forget them and clog up the system. Second, I am not a fan of govt bailouts and would not like to see a paper get any tax money. I do hope that newspapers will survive, and become more creative in their approach.

  2. Steve Geoge said

    Sir, why are newspapers so important? If they were important, people would buy them, increasing revenues, encouraging advertisers. I think people are sick of biases and have also realized that they can get much better service and timely news online.

    You mention that a person against newspapers is “wrong, of course” and that “we all suffer.” Make this blog interesting, give reasons instead of terse quips and assertions! I look forward to hearing a response.

  3. Steve George said

    Let me crystallize my stance on newspapers a bit. As a Whitworth student, I have access every morning in the HUB to the NYT, USA Today (News for Dummies) and the Spokesman Review. Aside from typical editorial biases and an ambush of advertisements trying to find the continuation of a front page article, I find nothing fresh. Every article I read in the morning is a simple of echo of what I read the night before on any number of a myriad news sites online. Considering that everyone is on the internet nowadays, who needs this print? They can’t make money, that’s why they are falling like snowflakes (or, if you like, banks or car companies). Enlighten me!

  4. James McPherson said

    Thanks, guys. As for why I think we’ll all suffer from the loss of newspapers, I’ve written about that in the past and thought the internal link would provide a decent starting point to recap my reasoning. One of the things I still struggle with a bit in this ongoing blog experiment (especially recognizing that people drop in and out) is trying to determine how often I should repeat something, or how long a piece I can write without having people just glance at it and move on.

    But I agree that this is an important issue, so I’ll try to clarify a bit here: Yes, as you noted, Steve, people can get their news on the web from a multitude of sites. The problem is, I’d be willing to bet that almost all of those sites come from mainstream news organizations, and the web operations are being heavily subsidized by the tradition newspaper or broadcast operations (TV news also is suffering, though frankly I care less about that than I do newspapers). I’d also bet that almost nothing you read covered your local community–city hall, local schools, etc.–which happens to be the level of government where most citizens could have the most influence.

    Because no one has yet figured out a way to adequately monetize the web, when traditional news sources disappear their web presence disappears (or is dramatically reduced) along with them. Incidentally, one of those newspapers you mentioned (the Spokesman-Review) has a good editorial on the topic this morning. I do think that unless someone figures out a way to consistently make money, democracy (our ability to govern ourselves) will suffer.

    And Mike, though we sometimes disagree on tax issues, this happens to be one of those areas in which I tend to agree with you. I don’t like the idea of government bailing out newspapers (even if I do find them to be more important than individual banking institutions that we’re also bailing out). In part I oppose it for fiscal reasons, and I think the news media have done much to create their own mess.

    Another big issue for me, though, is what I view as the most important reason for the news media to exist in the first place–to help us keep an eye on government (and big business, along iwith other institutions). One of the ways in which the media have hurt themselves, I think, is by neglecting that role and becoming too cozy with government. Having government subsidize private newspapers adds to the problem.

  5. Mike Ingram said

    Jim, while I’ve never glorified media as the fourth estate, I think you make an excellent point in the last paragraph about the proper relationship of the govt and media. The editorial in the Spokesman today mentioned several cases where govt has broken stories on corruption in govt, especiallly in local govt. I think we need local media to do its job and report on local things. I don’t have a business model solution for them handy to help them stay in business, but I concur that govt handouts or loans are not the answer.

  6. […] are we getting smarter). And though I have written about the issue previously here  (including in response to comments) and elsewhere–all the new attention to the problem seems to warrant further […]

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