"Dead Newspapers Kill Democracy Dead"

So says this Salon op-ed.

Certainly having one less large media source makes echo chamber-ism more likely. But is it really as bad as the editor (and the columnist he quotes) thinks?

The polarization of the GOP, from what I have heard, is due more to the realignment of the conservative south becoming republican which drove many of the more moderate northern and western republicans out of politics. Plus increased income inequality led to polarization because wealthy interests gained more influence. Plus the movement of evangelicals and authoritarian personalities into high ranking positions, etc.

I don’t think I’ve heard of local newspapers being the reason why. I don’t think I agree with it though. It isn’t like there are large hordes of voters who would choose to read the daily newspaper and come to the conclusions ‘hey these guys are plutocrats’. If a person can’t figure that out with all the other media I don’t think this would make a difference.

Yes, yes, they do. The death of newspapers is destroying Democracy!

Oh… wait… I’m not in the newspaper business anymore. Nevermind then. No they don’t.

I find the article rather silly. The argument is that in the past, newspapers largely determined what positions were mainstream, and thus guaranteed that politicians from both parties would gravitate towards the central position that the newspapers preferred. And that’s true. I just don’t agree that having such a mainstream position is a good thing. And it seems the author of that column is aware that mainstream positions were often horrible ones, as the comment about dead Vietnamese children indicates.

Democracies check in…but they don’t check out…


Dead newspapers kill journalist jobs, not democracy. But if he had written that he would be rightly seen as whining about his own job prospects so he tries to argue about democracy. Newspapers are just the latest version of an industry remade by technology. Every town used to have a local hardware store, now they have a Home Depot. Every town used to have a newspaper monopoly that was poor quality because there was only a certain distance from the printing press that could receive their paper in time. Now with the internet, the distance from the press is no longer and issue and there is no reason to read an inferior paper. This means fewer jobs and less power for journalist, but a better product for everyone else.

The piece as a whole is idiotic and dishonest (more on that in a second).

Now, like may conservatives, I’ve always held much of the mainstream media in disdain, and there’s a certain schadenfreude that most of us on the Right feel when watching liberal newsapers contract and decline. When the New York Times finally goes down the drain, many of us will be tempted to laugh.

Problem is… we’re almost certainly going to MISS the old media when they’re gone. Because, for all its faults, the New York Times offers news coverage that we just aren’t going to get anywhere else. The Huffington Post ISN’T going to do the kind of in-depth investigative reporting or in-person foreign policy coverage that the old newspapers and Big Three networks have provided.

And that’s bad for EVERYBODY.

Now, back to where I said the article was idiotic and dishonest; the Republican Party demonstrably has NOT “moved to the far right.” I only wish it had!

SDMB regulars have been saying for years that the GOP has moved so far right that moderates could never get nominated as President. So, who’s our nominee this year? Mitt Romney, the ultimate moderate insider!

Even the people regarded as “far right” are invariably pushing only for a return to standards that practially EVERYBODY (even JFK and Adlai Stevenson) agreed on as recently as 1963.

Was America a fascist theocracy in 1963?

Democracies don’t need newspapers, they need journalism. Whether that journalism comes in the form of dead trees, or a neighborhood blog is not relevant and I would point out that America’s formal press served the nation very poorly in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq and it was on the fringes of the established media where one could hear reasoned arguments on the facts making up the case for war.

Is it really a better product?

It’s better for national and international news, that’s for sure. I can go online and see stories from around the country and around the world written by the best journalists.

But it’s much worse for local news. I no longer can find any coverage at all of our city council or our local school board, for example.

If journalism falls in the woods with no one there to hear it, is it still journalism? Maybe but it isn’t doing anyone any good out there. The benefit of big newspapers was that they disseminated a block of news widely whereas with the internet while you can get more detailed specialized information most people are getting a lot less general information. It’s a paradox. More information is available but this leads to people being less informed overall. This is what the article is lamenting. People will still have newspaper coverage of national events but are paying less attention to it and becoming more ignorant of local and state issues to the detriment of our society.

Yeah, but I don’t agree with the basic premise that people are becoming less informed because of the death of newspapers. Look at the war in Iraq, which will likely turn out to be one of the most significant events for the US in the first half of this century: the newspapers, including the NY Times, fundamentally got the story wrong. And precisely because, “they disseminated a block of news widely,” the public ended up with a wildly inaccurate view of the state of affairs leading up to the war. It wasn’t the internet that killed newspapers, it was bad journalism and overly chummy relationships with the powers that be that lead the public to rightfully question the information they were getting from newspapers.

It is precisely why Colbert’s WHC performance struck such a cord with people, he was calling out the press and the government for what has become a corrupting relationship. We might be going through some birthing pains now, but what emerges will likely be more dynamic than the diseased corpse that was America’s mainstream media.

Colbert is a pompous liberal fraud who plays a pompous conservative fraud on TV.

Regardless, you’re delusional if you think the death of the mainstream media (no matter how much we conservatives would sort of like to see it happen) will mean more or better sources of news. Your favorite left-wing blogger can offer OPINIONS that suit you, but he doesn’t have any access to information. He isn’t in the field asking questions, because he doesn’t have the resources necessary.

If, after the New York Times dies, the end result is millions of leftists reading THEIR favorite opinion blogs and millions of conservatives reading THEIR favorite opinion blogs, where are hard facts supposed to come from?

Will the New York Times die though? Its available online and even the paywall, I’ve heard can be gotten around.

Yeah, I think the New York Times isn’t the best example because it’s more or less a national news source. For one thing, the big national papers aren’t in QUITE as much trouble, but even if they did disappear there are other media organizations that do national and world news. What the article in the OP is talking about is local news in medium-sized and smaller cities and communities, where local papers really are the only source of local “hard” news (since local TV and radio are largely fluff).

In to contrast to what astorian says about the national-level situation, on the local level part of the problem is that political blogs DO have a certain amount of information-gathering capability. Everyone knows the New York Times can’t be replaced by the Huffington Post and the Drudge Report since national and world news gathering requires an extensive network of reporters and researchers, but a handful of amateurs following gossip and press releases and such can provide a rough idea of what’s going on in a smaller community.

That bloggers could conceivably fill the vacuum left by local papers, at the expense of objectivity and depth, is what’s so scary. Without a reliable source of objective local news, it’s pretty hard to make truly informed decisions about voting on local offices and issues. In my reading anyways, the “threat to democracy” posed by the state of the newspaper industry isn’t that the demise of the local papers is going to lead to fascism or anything like that, but rather to dysfunctional and unresponsive local governments.

Actually you’re delusional if you think that the mainstream media is liberal, it has a conservative lean and has for years. Fox News is the mainstream media, as are the rest of Murdoch’s media empire. You only need to look at how little coverage Murdoch’s scandals in the UK is getting in the US to understand how conservative America’s media has become.

I didn’t say that bloggers would replace newspapers, I said that we are in the birthing pains of a new way for journalists to work. In just a few short years we have seen a radical change in how people get their information, it would be ridiculous to assume that we have arrived at our final destination and that the situation won’t remain fluid.

I think the current state of affairs on the internet is akin to the 19th century when there were lots of newspapers cropping up and lots of them were irresponsible, or schills for the hidden agendas of their owners, but from that chaotic period, more responsible and sustainable journalism was born. Now, we are in a similar period of chaos as people try out different ways of disseminating information, some of it will work, some of it won’t, but something new will be born out of it.

That’s pretty much what I said. It’s already almost impossible to find news about my city council meetings or my local school board meetings.