It's the Readers Fault
As newspaper circulation tanks Evan Cornog, publisher of the Columbia Journalism Review, writes a long and deeply nuanced piece on the root causes of the decline of newspaper circulation in America (and, by extension, Canada).
But perhaps the problem, and therefore the solution, has broader and deeper roots. Perhaps we should, to an extent, blame the readers. Perhaps the old notions of an engaged and virtuous citizenry, upon which the founding fathers’ hopes for the republic were based, are archaic concepts.While he cites television addiction, the loss of community, gated communities, suburbanization and a host of other reasons for the public's apparent lack of interest he does not mention the elephant in the room.
Gourmet’s editor, Ruth Reichl, when she was still the restaurant critic of The New York Times, once launched a review of Thomas Keller’s Napa Valley restaurant, the French Laundry, with the observation, “The secret of the French Laundry is that Mr. Keller is the first American chef to understand that it takes more than great food and a great location to make a great restaurant: it also takes great customers.” The greatest danger to American journalism in the coming decades is not commercial pressures or government regulation but the decline of public interest in public life, a serious disengagement of citizens from one of the primary duties of citizenship — to know what is happening in their government and society. Americans know a lot about a lot of things, but when only 41 percent of teenagers polled can name the three branches of government while 59 percent can name the Three Stooges, something is seriously amiss.
columbia journalism review
In America, and to a an even greater degree in Canada, the news media's politics have remained mired in the 60's fixations of their boomer cohort. The public, meanwhile, has moved on. Not necessarily to a more conservative position; rather to one which is far less tolerant of the offical cant which passes for analysis and news coverage in MSM.
The revolt against poltical correctness, the nanny state, taxes paid so that unionized public employees can make ever more money for ever less work has been gaining momentum while the media sleeps.
Worse, the media itself exercises a startling degree of group think as to what constitutes acceptable oppinion. Ask yourself this question, when did you last read a new idea in a MSM publication. Or even an old idea written in an original voice?
In the CJR article there is considerable discussion of just how far it is possible to go with celebrity journalism before some invisible line is crossed. The editors quoted, more in sorrow than anger, suggest that celebrity journalism is one of the few things which brings in new readers.
Here's a hint - hire some writers. You know, people who don't give a rat's ass about Paris Hilton's underwear malfunctions, but really are willing to call Heather Mallick on just how dumb she is and make fun of the Leah's pretensions. People who will fisk Antonia Zerbiass and mock Jeffery Simpson. (Update - Hi Instafolks! - Translated into American read Maureen Dowd for Heather Mallick, George Will for Jeffery Simpson. Leah and Antonia are simply too strange to have American counterparts.)
Make the pages themselves interesting instead of relying on star power. Hell, have real arguments and, hey, go nuts and run reviews which are not puff pieces...There you go. Now you are back in business.
Oh, and drop your subscriber walls and hire bloggers.