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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Posts Tagged ‘Rocky Mountain News’

Newspaper sales, media credibility skyrocket

Posted by James McPherson on April 1, 2009

While other economic news continues to be bad, CNN reports today that a survey shows that newspaper sales–and news media credibility in general–have soared in recent weeks. Sadly, the news apparently came just a little too late for the Rocky Mountain News, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and employees of my local newspaper, which today announced wage cuts of up to 10 percent for newsroom employees in its print edition (but apparently not online).

“Apparently the fine job the media did of covering issues instead of the horse race during the election had an impact,” said a media expert who, ironically, lost his job just last month. “The fact that cable news outlets such as Fox and MSNBC have focused so much on meaningful issues instead of on personalities apparently had a transference effect, making people hunger for more in-depth news in all formats.

By the way, it’s April Fools Day. One thing the CNN story did say that I agree with totally, however: “Geoffrey Davies, the head of the journalism department at London’s University of Westminster, said such pranks do not particularly affect the credibility of a news organization.”

The credibility of the media being what it is, how could those pranks have a negative effect?

Same-day addendum: Apparently lots of people are concerned about the Conficker worm.  I normally get between 100 and 150 hits on my blog in a day. So far today I’m over 1,460, putting me at #26 right now on the WordPress “growing blogs” list and at #70 on the WordPress “top posts” list. Gee, and it came on the same day I was interviewed by C-SPAN about my latest book. As if I didn’t have enough trouble keeping my ego in check.

Most of the blog traffic has come from a CNN link to my Conficker post of yesterday. It has already drawn more than 1,200 hits, making it the third-most-popular post of my 11 months of blogging. Maybe it’s because I mentioned my media criticism class in the post–that’s what I told them in class today, anyway. Each of the two posts ahead of yesterday’s entry has taken months to reach their current numbers of just over 2,200 and just under 2,000 hits.

Addendum #2: By the end of the “day” (which on the “stats” page ends at 5 p.m. my time), I’d had 1,612 hits for the day, and had reached at least as high as #29 on the WordPress “top posts” list (and #26 on “growing blogs“). Thanks to all who visited, and especially those who commented.

Posted in Education, History, Journalism, Personal, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Colorado Rocky Mountain sigh

Posted by James McPherson on February 27, 2009

Colorado saw two potential major changes today in media. One is sad and a reflection of many current media problems that bode ill for all of us. The other is overdue, and doesn’t yet go far enough.

First, the sad: The Rocky Mountain News, which began publication as Colorado’s first newspaper in 1859, put out its final issue today. You can see the final front page here:

final-rocky-mtn-news

Rocky” won four Pulitzer Prizes in its history, the last of those for a photographer who helped produce best multimedia presentation I’ve ever seen about the human cost of war. The newspaper’s history, of course, began before the war that claimed the most American lives and probably the nation’s best president.

Now the newspaper shuts its doors during our most fiscally expensive war ever, and just after the departure of a commander in chief whom I think is destined to be ranked as one of the nation’s worst presidents (I will agree with George W. Bush, however, that it’s too early to rank him in historical terms).

Denver will now be like most American cities, a one-newspaper town (not counting free weeklies or suburban papers, which have different roles). The Rocky Mountain News was killed by the same thing that is killing and crippling newspapers (and now local television stations–I was interviewed on that topic by a wire service yesterday) all over the country: higher costs and lower revenues. One of my students has produced a blog that has chronicled many of the problems.

Ironically, as several media professionals pointed out to a group of students I took to New York and Washington, D.C., in January, the demand for news remains as high as ever. The problem is that people want to read (and now watch) the news on their own schedule, from a variety of sources, without paying anything for it. Few consider or care that the “free” news they read is subsidized by subscribers and advertisers for the non-web versions of those same media outlets. When the major newspapers and broadcast stations die, their web operations die, too. (For example, I have no idea whether some of the links above will work after today.)

The result of fewer and smaller newspapers is less potential oversight. We can’t go to all of the city council and county commission meetings and legislative hearings, even if we want to. We don’t have the time or knowledge to investigate unsafe business practices, government corruption, or the best and worst hospitals and schools. Increasingly we find that there’s no one else to do it for us, either.

Our own voice also shrinks, as newspapers disappear. I occasionally write letters to my local paper. More people will read that letter than will come to this blog in the course of an entire month.

Speaking of voices, that brings me to the second potential big media event in Colorado today: just potential, because James Dobson’s will not disappear from the airwaves right away, but he is stepping down as chairman of Focus on the Family. As I’ve written previously, I don’t understand why Dobson has the following that he does, considering his lack of qualifications. I hope his retirement as chairman is just a first step in the fading from view of the neocon of child development.

Posted in History, Journalism, Religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Soldiers still dying, but at least photos may be unburied

Posted by James McPherson on February 26, 2009

Defense Secretary Robert Gates announces today that the Pentagon is overturning a Bushian policy that pretends dead soldiers don’t exist. (The ban on pictures of flag-draped coffins actually started under George H.W. Bush during the Persian Gulf War–another war in the region, as I and others have pointed out–that might never have begun without a misleading public relations effort.)

There have been occasional breaks from the official ban, but its reversal is overdue. Those favoring rejection of the “Dover policy” included the Army Times and the National Press Photographers Association. Families, who are split on the issue but mostly seem to favor the ban (apparently trusting the government more than they do the media, despite their losses), will still be allowed to keep the press away from their own deceased loved ones.

Call today’s action a partial victory for reason. After 9/11, George W. Bush told us to “go shopping.” In the meantime, the real price for his ensuing folly has remained largely hidden. You can get a better picture of that cost with two databases from the Washington Post and the New York Times.

Same-day update: Those who would protest overturning the ban might want to check out how sensitive and sensible the media can be at times of tragedy. Pulitzer Prize-winning Rocky Mountain News photographer Todd Heisler and reporter Jim Sheeler produce “A Final Salute” about a fallen Marine. Unfortunately, the News is closing its doors tomorrow, another in a recent series of great newspaper losses. Web content may be fine, but the best of it is still produced by the mainstream news organizations that are now going under.

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments »

Maybe Big Media should get next bailout

Posted by James McPherson on December 9, 2008

It worked for the banks, and now apparently for auto makers (who may have become too accustomed to long-term financing, since they may be viewing the expected bailout as merely a down payment). Maybe Big Media should be the next poorly run industry in line for a government handout.

In what the Huffington Post termed “Media Meltdown Monday,” the New York Times, the Tribune Company (owner of the Chicago Tribune, L.A. Times and Baltimore Sun, among others) and NBC all announced bad news yesterday.

That news came just days after the Scripps Company announced that its Rocky Mountain Newswas up for sale–or, as RMN writer Mike Littwin put it, “read: doomed“–and on the heels of announcements from newspapers all over the country that they were for sale and/or cutting back on people, production and public service (OK, I added the last part). “The Newshour” on PBS devoted a segment to the Tribune case and related issues last night, and offers a series of online videos about various aspects of the media crisis.

Piling on, today the New York Times’ Stuart Elliot writes–in a story bluntly headlined “Next Year is Looking Even Worse,” that “advertising is bracing for the possibility of the first two consecutive yearly declines in spending since the early days of the Great Depression.” And in the last line of its story about the Tribune Company, Columbia Journalism Review offers this dire warning: “Think the news has been bad for the industry in the last couple of years? The real blood-letting is about to begin.”

Just months after buying the LA Times (despite the fact that many regular watchers of CNBC–or of HGTV–could have pointed out that California property values were overinflated) the Tribune Company is filing for bankruptcy. Perhaps the Illinois governor should have been more worried about the company’s board of directors than about its editorial board.

Of the news organizations now suffering, the Tribune Company is perhaps the toughest of the group to feel sorry for, thanks to owner Sam Zell, “the newspaper mogul who despises journalism, the real estate tycoon who once told the Tribune’s Washington staff they were so much ‘overhead,’ the self-proclaimed Viagra of the industry whose ‘innovation’ guru he brought in from the radio world didn’t understand that L.A. Times reporters in Iraq were actually reporting from Iraq … In less than a year’s time, Zell took the Tribune private and then took the company to bankruptcy. That has to be some kind of record.”

Still, some of us remember that the conservative Chicago Tribune was doing meaningful investigative journalism before most other news organizations, regularly uncovering governmental abuses of the type now being reported about Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Of course, some might argue that finding corruption in Chicago is about as difficult as finding Easter eggs on the White House lawn during the annual hunt, but the same probably is true of most major cities–it’s just that most newspapers don’t work as hard to uncover the abuses as the Tribune once did.

The fact is, most newspapers don’t have enough staffers to do the most important things that journalists should do: keep an eye on government. Jennifer Dorroh, managing editor of American Journalism Review, recently pointed out that local reporters of the type who uncovered the corruption of California Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham are an “endangered species.”

There is another major reason for journalists and those of us who train journalists to be worried about the Trib’s collapse. Besides the harm that bankruptcy judges or others might do to the newspaper or to journalism, Littwin notes, “Apparently it’s hard to gloat and work on your resume at the same time.”

Even more troubling for most people who care about good journalism might be the news about the problems of the New York Times. Today the Times offers an Associate Press story about its talks with lenders, though the headline for that story is far less noticeable than the headline (with photo) about Christie Hefner resigning from her position as Playboy CEO.

As for NBC, it announced this week that it may cut back on programming (what, Fox got all the good reality shows?) and that late-night host Jay Lenowould be doing a five-nights-a-week 10 p.m. program. Interestingly, the MSNBC Web site went with the Associated Press reports for both stories about Leno (too many commentators, not enough reporters at the network?). As the report notes, “A talk show is considerably cheaper to produce than the dramas that usually air at 10 p.m.”

So maybe news organizations need to take the same step that GM has: announce that they’ve done a poor job of providing what consumers need, apologize for their mistakes, and beg for government help. As much as those organizations have sucked up to government in recent years, instead of investigating official misconduct (so what’s Judith Miller up to, nowadays?), perhaps they’d even get the bailout.

Posted in Journalism | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »