A lament for newspapers going broke

The Tribune Company, which owns the Chicago Tribune, the L.A. Times, and other properties, has filed for bankruptcy protection. Meanwhile, the New York Times has mortgaged its building to raise much-needed cash.

Before we gloat about the end of print journalism, with its liberal bias, and hail its replacement with the internet, consider. . . . When you read news on the internet, notice that it is nearly always linked to a newspaper. What newspapers do is pay people in your town and around the world to dig up news and then write it up. The internet is free, but that means that the internet is not paying anyone to perform that service. That we can now get news free does wreck the newspapers’ business model, but until people pay for internet news–enabling a true migration from print-on-paper to online news organizations–we will not have anything to replace what newspapers, for all of their current faults, do.

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  • Kirk

    I think what major news papers need to realize is that their product is not actually the news, it’s advertising. These “free” news websites bombard you with ads in the form of pop-ups and side bars. They deliver advertising, and attract you to it with news. TV and radio have been doing this for years. Even some hard-copy news papers (Washington Examiner and Washington Post Express) have adopted this model. Granted, the news that you get is much less inclusive, but then there’s a lessening demand for solid reporting and good analysis. Personally, I don’t see the news paper dying. I see the advertising model increasing, and large papers, like the NY Times and Chicago Tribune consolidating into two or three major, national papers that meet the demand for those who want to read things like that.

  • Dan

    Dr. Veith,

    It’s Milton’s 400th birthday today! How are we going to celebrate? Should we read a bit of Areopagitica? Should we contemplate Paradise Lost? Or should we remember the persectued Waldensians by reading “On the Late Massacre at Piemont”? We MUST do something!


  • Carl Vehse

    Some statements about newspapers:

    “Newspapers are unable, seemingly to discriminate between a bicycle accident and the collapse of civilization” – George Bernard Shaw

    “Everything you read in newspapers is absolutely true, except for that rare story of which you happen to have first-hand knowledge” – Erwin Knoll

    “We live in an age in which the imagination of the novelist is helpless against what he knows he is going to read in tomorrow’s newspaper.” – Philip Roth

    “I am unable to understand how a man of honor could take a newspaper in his hands without a shudder of disgust.” – Charles Baudelaire

    “Never believe in mirrors or newspapers.” – Tom Stoppard

    “The difference between burlesque and the newspapers is that the former never pretended to be performing a public service by exposure.” – I. F. Stone

    “The truth is not wonderful enough to suit the newspapers; so they enlarge upon it, and invent ridiculous embellishments.” – Anne Sullivan

    “Accuracy to a newspaper is what virtue is to a lady; but a newspaper can always print a retraction.” – Adlai E. Stevenson

    “My doctors told me this morning my blood pressure is down so low that I can start reading the newspapers.” – Ronald Reagan

    “Advertisements contain the only truths to be relied on in the newspaper.” – Thomas Jefferson

    “People may expect too much of journalism. Not only do they expect it to be entertaining, they expect it to be true.” – Lewis H. Lapham

    “A newspaper is what I used to wrap my garbage; now it is my garbage.” – Norm Lieberman

    “I believe in equality for everyone, except reporters and photographers.” – Mahatma Gandhi

    “What kind of morons do you have working at newspapers in Austin that would base an entire review of an artist’s performance on whether or not they had a good seat?” – Al Yankovic

  • why don’t they just go to congress and ask for a bailout? I mean they must have a few favors they can turn in. I don’t get it. Why file for bankruptcy, that isn’t the American way is it? Doesn’t the government have a duty to protect the journalists?

  • Keith

    Actually a Congressional bailout is exactly what P.J. O’Rourke proposes in tis Weekly Standard column.

  • How about just one newspaper (basically what we have anyway).

    We could call it something like….Pravda! Yeah…that’s the ticket…and we’ll force people to read it…

  • I’ve spent my career as a newspaper reporter & these are very difficult times indeed. The last small daily I worked for closed down and ceased publication altogether (after some 100 years in the community). I can’t tell you how sad it was to hear the announcement of our final day of publication.

    We reporters sit through (mostly boring) city council and school board meetings on behalf of our readers. We search for that special holiday story that will bring joy to readers when they wake up on Thanksgiving or Christmas morning.

    Sometimes we’re even still working on Thanksgiving and Christmas, making sure we don’t miss either the good or the bad stories our readers should know about.

    Flawed, for sure. But newspapers provide an invaluable service to their communities. Sadly, some may not realize this until their paper is gone.

  • Don S

    The news will get reported, in some manner, and in a profitable way. But clearly, the era of dropping a printed newspaper in your driveway every morning is coming to an end.

    This would have happened regardless. Daily newspapers are a dinosaur in an era of the 24 hour news cycle. But it surely is not a smart business practice to consistently tick off half of your readership base with blatant one-sided reporting. Hopefully, the news organizations that come out of this upheaval will recognize the value of “fair and balanced”, either by actively promoting viewpoint diversity, or by having the news sources openly acknowledge their biases, rather than pretending objectivity.

    I do not weep for the newspapers. They have brought this on themselves.

  • Michael the little boot

    Why do people keep saying things about newspapers losing half their readership? As if half the country were conservative and half liberal. And this liberal bias everyone keeps talking about is not apparent to me. It is apparent newspapers – as well as everything else concerned with making a profit – is interested in doing what it takes to make money. That’s it. The liberal bias of the media is a myth. This is coming from a person who wishes the media actually was liberal. The media just panders, to both sides, doing what fits its goals. They certainly rolled over for Bush.

  • Michael, if the bias isn’t apparent to you, you can visit the LA Times or Minneapolis Red Star-Tribune. :^)

    (it’s actually just the “Star-Tribune,” but…)

    This saddens me, but the problems could have been avoided if they’d realized that you don’t go deeper into debt to keep things going when your reader base is declining. You restructure. The Times should be renting out large parts of its building, not mortgaging it.

  • Michael the little boot

    Bike Bubba,

    I’m not saying there aren’t newspapers with a liberal bias; however, saying the “liberal media” doesn’t mean the LA Times or the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. It means the media, which, being a broad term, refers to “the media” as a group. And “the media” is only biased towards turning a profit.

  • Bruce Gee

    How is the Washington Times doing?

    While it is tempting to say that the cause of the coming demise of large newspapers is liberal bias–something BTW Michael Little Boot I think is best seen and appreciated when one is in fact NOT liberal–I suspect the real reason is that people don’t read anymore, at least off-line. The cultural habit of coffee and the morning paper is not so engrained in the habits of people as it once was, alas!

    Of course–and on the other hand–the likes of Rush Limbaugh exist solely because the traditional media sources did not supply large numbers of the people with the news they want, or at least the slant they want. As simplistic as this sounds, people actually tend to read the newspaper they agree with. If you can’t find one of those, you stop reading or find one that you do agree with.

    Bear in mind that for a few generations now, national news has been narrowly controlled by just a few organizations such as AP, and only local news is written by smalltown newspaper staffs. Reading AP news releases during an election year isn’t even worth it to me anymore. If I want blatant opinion, I can find it anywhere. The internet, for example!

  • Michael the little boot

    Bruce Gee,

    “BTW Michael Little Boot I think is best seen and appreciated when one is in fact NOT liberal”

    Actually, it’s hard to see either way. A conservative would be looking for it under every stone and behind every bush (no pun intended), whereas a liberal will not see it even when it IS there. Neither side has an objective view.

    I said I wished it were more liberal to admit my own bias.

    I agree with you this problem is mostly about readership being down, though.

  • Michael, reality is that the Tribune company is having difficulty greatly because the LA Times has gone so far to the left (especially in their editorial page) that they’ve ticked off left-leaning LA. That’s no small “accomplishment.” Same basic thing with the NY Times, really.

    The thing I’d like to see as a conservative is a little more analysis by reporters of “is this quote I’m reporting halfway true?” The best they’re doing these days–at least outside of the editorial pages–is to cite “FactCheck’s” citation of the (liberal) Brookings Institution. Only very rarely do we get a reporter clever enough to realize how the public figure is snowing him.

  • Peter Leavitt

    I agree that scouting and reporting hard news is valuable; however, when the vast majority of reporters are known to filter the news through a hard-left prism, then I shall weep crocodile tears for the mainstream media that is going financially belly up.

    Actually in a complex and not too well understood way the blogosphere, however crudely, is finding ways of establishing journalistic truths about issues.

  • Carl Vehse

    Daily newspapers are a dinosaur in an era of the 24 hour news cycle.

    When I was in grade school, my parents subscribed to the Kansas City Times in the morning, the Kansas City Star and the local town newspaper in afternoon. Now I see little need in even getting a weekend paper.

    As for media bias, check out the major newspapers’ reporting of the arrest of Illinois Governor Blagojevich for corruption. Few newspapers report, if any, note anywhere that he was a Democrat, although one I read mentioned the previous (corrupt) IL governor, now in prison, identified as a Republican.

    Now check out the same newspapers’ reports of Idaho Senator Larry Craig losing his appeal over an undercover sex sting guilty plea. Yep, “Republican” is identified right up front.

    Leftist MSM SOP, even as their presses grind to a halt.

  • There needs to be more diversity (of viewpoint) in most newsrooms, I’ll grant you that in a heartbeat as one only perhaps 3 conservatives in my own newsroom.

    But that’s almost a side issue here. The current crisis in newspapers is being driven by ad revenues going to the Internet, including the once very profitable classified ad sections.

    People are still reading newspapers (in perhaps greater numbers than ever) online. And most of us welcome the added news sources from blogs, etc. But those online ads? They don’t bring in near the money of the old print editions, making it increasingly difficult for newspaper owners to meet their “bottom” lines.

  • Michael the little boot

    Bike Bubba,

    “[R]eality is that the Tribune company is having difficulty greatly because the LA Times has gone so far to the left (especially in their editorial page) that they’ve ticked off left-leaning LA.”

    Wow. That’s a bold statement. Do you have any evidence to back up that claim? I work in a library. I can attest that, at least where I’m located, readership of ALL print media is down. I don’t think this trend is local. As you said, to tick off left-leaning L.A., a newspaper would have to be – well, I don’t actually know. How could being TOO liberal make liberals upset? I’d like to know where you’re getting your facts regarding this, not because I’d like to ask you for them and have you come up short, but simply because, as a Californian, it makes no sense to me.

  • Michael the little boot


    “As for media bias, check out the major newspapers’ reporting of the arrest of Illinois Governor Blagojevich for corruption. Few newspapers report, if any, note anywhere that he was a Democrat, although one I read mentioned the previous (corrupt) IL governor, now in prison, identified as a Republican.”

    Might this be due to Republican’s promoting the GOP as the party of morality? Could it just be the media, like all of us, like to see smug people fall flat on their faces?

  • larry

    please remember all the “other sources” of our news today.
    Cable TV, internet, radio. The newpapers must adapt to obtaining advertising revenue from the Internet and copywriting their articles for maintaining revenue or the will not be around as we once knew them.
    adapt or die….unless you can obtain a gov’t bailout.

  • Carl Vehse

    Might this be due to Republican’s promoting the GOP as the party of morality?

    Yeah, that’s probably it. For demonrats, only the Edwin Edward’s Rule applies: “The only way I can lose this election is if I’m caught in bed with either a dead girl or a live boy.”

  • john

    From my part of the world the papers are rightwing. According to one Murdoch publication( the Government Gazette), we are winning in Iraq and global warming is a leftwing plot to shackle capitalism.
    Murdoch news is so far to the right that media at the centre is invariably regarded as leftwing.

  • FW

    Occasionally I get to read an article about some war somewhere or some issue. I come away from the article without having been steered to see one side as right and the other side as wrong.

    when I see that happen I realize that I am used to having my news served to me stirred and shaken (interpreted and digested) rather than straight up with no editorializing at all. In fact I sense a feeling that I even sort of prefer that. My lazy side taking over I guess.

    The difference between “freedom fighter” and “terrorist/revolutionary” often (not always!) is an editorial slant. The taliban were “freedom fighters” for example as long as they were fighting the Russians and we were actually supporting them….

    The worst offenders I see, observationally, are time and newsweek. their articles ALL seem to read like editorial/analysis rather than reporting.

    So for me the liberal/conservative thing is sort of a cannard. I listen for those loaded buzzwords, conservative, ultraconservative, religious right, liberal, agenda, lifestyle… etc etc etc when I hear those words I know I am probably being manipulated. This seems to happen most on MSNBC and FOX. but it is universal actually….. if the news WERE reported straight up, think about it, would it really be necessary to use labels like liberal or conservative or ultra whatever?

  • Michael the little boot

    I know by some on the far right it is considered liberal, but NPR is surprisingly balanced. In fact, during the 2004 presidential election they were criticized for a supposed liberal bias, only to show they had given more time to Bush than to Kerry. They used that fact to defend themselves, then turned around and apologized for it, saying they strive to give equal time to both sides. The reporters NEVER editorialize because they aren’t allowed to do so, and the commentators do a good job skewering both sides.

  • Michael the little boot


    Man, you are EXTREME. Unless I totally missed the point of your comment.

  • john

    Until Katrina the Edwin Edwards Rule applied to President Bush.
    I am also bemused by the way Fox news has given a licence to others to become more political.

  • Michael the little boot


    NPR, in its coverage of the Blagojevich debacle, did mention he is a Democrat. Just thought I’d give a little more love to the place I get most of my news.

    They also noted the history of corruption in the Illinois governor’s office.

  • I do lament the sad shape of our local Orange County Register. This paper was shaped by libertarian R.C. Hoiles who bought it in 1935. It drifted from its roots, but for the last decade, the Opinion section is libertarian again. (I open the Opinion section of the Register and feel like I have a home.) Some of its writers blog here:

    In one post, Alan Bock offers his view of how the papers got into dire straits: “I’m fascinated at the eagerness of some people to attach an ideological reason to the newspaper industry’s troubles. Plenty of people on talk radio attribute it to the ‘liberal media’ being out of touch, while more than one commenter on this blog has attributed it to the free-market-oriented Register being out of touch. The explanation is more devastating. We had a surefire business model for about a century and then the Internet and other developments disrupted it. We’ve lost all kinds of classified advertising to Craigslist and all kinds of employment advertising to Monster.com. The big department stores have consolidated and buy many fewer full-page ads. We have worked to establish an Internet presence but because the fixed costs are so low (which in an abstract sense is a good thing for entrepreneurship), we’re competing for ad dollars with people who haven’t had to buy monster printing presses and fleets of trucks, so the ad prices are low and we’re still frantically trying to figure out how to get more Internet ad revenue. And of course the current financial crisis hasn’t exactly helped. I think newspapers will survive in some form but we’re in a rough patch right now. It has everything to do with changing technology and market conditions and almost nothing to do with ideology.”

  • #28 sums it up well.

  • Michael the little boot

    Thanks for posting that, Rick. Sounds exactly right.

  • Don S

    Rick @ 28: I share your lament, as the Register is the paper that hits my driveway every morning. Even if the paper can be saved in some form, it is most likely to fall into the clutches of a media conglomerate sooner or later, and lose its unique libertarian flavor.

    I read recently that R.C. Hoile, because of his principled view of individual liberty, was the only publisher in the entire country to editorialize against the Japanese internment program during World War II. Here in Southern California, during the height of hysterical fear of Japanese invasion, in 1942. That was courage and principle at its finest.

  • Carl Vehse

    “I am also bemused by the way Fox news has given a licence to others to become more political.”

    Then you’re bemused by your own delusion, John. The clymer press has been political in pushing its leftist yellow journalism even before Rupert Murdoch was a twinkle in his father’s eye. In the eyes of the MSM, Fox News’s travesty was in presenting some neoconservative viewpoints for business reasons, and because of that, taking market share from the MSM.

  • Joe

    Fox gets a bad rap for bing right wing, but that is mostly that wonderful brand of knowledge called “common knowledge” that is largely grounded in opinion and not fact.

    The Center for Media and Public Affairs at George Mason University announced that Fox News’ Special Report w/ Brit Hume was more balanced than the network evening news. I think the common knowledge that Fox is conservative comes from the confusion between news and commentary. O’Reilly is not the news, Hannity and Colmes is not the news, etc. The commentary is not balanced and that should not be a surprise – the editorial page of a newspaper is not balanced either.

  • Michael, Hugh Hewitt has a bunch of stuff on the LA Times. Yes, everybody’s dropping, but the LA Times is special in this regard. They’ve had dozens of advertisers dropping them, all kinds of things. There is a point for editorial freedom, and a point for protecting your investment.

  • Well this isn’t like Veith, and I am starting to wonder and pray for his welfare. By that I mean I hope he is faring well. I have not heard anything. But this blog is reliable for new posts. Does anyone know where Dr. Veith has gone?

  • Don S

    Finals start tomorrow at PHC, so I suspect that might have something to do with his absence on the blog today.

  • In that case I will continue to pray for his welfare.

  • Michael the little boot

    Bike Bubba,

    Wasn’t able to find much searching Hewitt about the Times. Interesting Hewitt is a conservative, though. Are there any non-partisan people saying the L.A. Times is losing readership due to its left-leaning editorial staff? Did you read what Rick posted above? Even if the Times IS losing readership due to being too liberal, how is that evidence the entire media is leaning to the left?

    “There is a point for editorial freedom, and a point for protecting your investment.” I’m not sure what you mean by that. Could you elaborate if you have a little time? No new posts today, as you pointed out.

  • Michael the little boot

    According to how the extreme right (I realize I’m totally generalizing here) characterizes what it means to lean left, I wonder if there is another way to look at the attacks by these right-leaners. Couldn’t it be that the “center” of the entire country has moved more toward the left? There is evidence things like gay marriage are moving more toward being 50% for, 50% against. Look at how CA voted on the marriage amendment the last two times. The first time it passed with 60-something%, this time with only 52%. And that was only a difference of a few years.

    What I’m trying to say is, I think the extreme right has been left in the cold by the rest of the country. Those who were just left of center before are actually the center now, so the extreme right has lost its bearings and can no longer interpret the country. Of course this is just an observation, and my opinion. But even my conservative friends do not sound like the conservatives of the past.

  • Michael, exhibit A of media bias; look at the NY Times’ article about Rod Blagojevich’s arrest. Does it tell you what party he is of?

    And no, proposition 8 doesn’t demonstrate a huge shift. It rather demonstrates that Jerry Brown changed the wording of the proposal.


    One thing that hasn’t changed in decades in California is the shenanigans of Jerry Brown, sad to say, which means that the major societal shift in that state is that sensible people are leaving.

  • Michael the little boot

    Bike Bubba,

    You should stop believing everything you read. I LIVE in California. Boy do I WISH people were leaving. If I had the money and a job opportunity elsewhere, I’D leave.

    I must admit there is no way at this time we will be able to say whether prop 8 represents a shift. I never said a “huge” shift, but we’ll have to wait for time to pass to find out what’s really going on.

    The article you link doesn’t demonstrate what you term “the shenanigans of Jerry Brown” unless you already think what you obviously think of him. I’m not saying he doesn’t have his bias – we all do. But, as I agree with him, I don’t see this so much as shenanigans. I can see where he didn’t serve his side well in putting forth this wording, but only because it gave the opposition an opening which they exploited. He was correct in his assessment, though, when he put this in terms of eliminating rights. The right of gay marriage was recognized, and then people moved to eliminate that right. If you think the right was given incorrectly or unlawfully, you can think that, of course.

    The worst thing is both sides resorted to “trumping up” their arguments, and that hurt the whole thing. Neither side is innocent of trying to spin this issue their way. Since, in my opinion, the no on 8 people were right, their inability to refrain from attacking the other side and from inflating some of their facts hurt them.

    As far as the NY Times, of course it has a liberal bias. I’m asking, where is this conspiracy of liberal bias everyone is talking about? LA Times, NY Times. Does anyone doubt the bias of these papers? Mostly no. I’m left-leaning and I don’t even doubt that. Once again, you have not shown, nor has anyone, how this demonstrates the entire “MSM” has a liberal bias. I don’t mean you have to list ALL the papers, channels, websites, etc., which have this bias. But you’ll have to do better than mention a couple papers from cities which are well-known to be liberal, or at least left-leaning.

  • michelle

    Oh hi, Peter, Cameron told me I could find you at this address and now I see you’re at Gene’s place. Nice to see you again, Gene, and congratulations on Joanna’s pregnancy–I was hoping that image was her child. I, too, remember her from WorldMagBlog.

    And nice to see you again, Carl.

    I said to my husband this morning when I brought in the paper, “I wonder if we’ll have more than a few sheets after Christmas, once all the gift ads are gone.” Our NYT subsidiary has been shrinking since the beginning of the year. They’ve laid off local reporters and beefed up the AP stories and more and more people cancel their subscriptions in disgust.

    I like a paper in my hand, but what I need are local stories. I want to read about the high school volleyball teams, and about issues affecting local farmers and why the city council keeps spending money trying to close off one of the main arteries in town. An internet presence doesn’t address those issues–though the paper keeps telling me I can find more photos on their web site.

    I’m 52 and I don’t want to eat breakfast without the paper. But they give me fewer and fewer reasons to read it almost every day. I’m afraid when it’s gone, however, we’ll be living more like the dark ages except we’ll have access to international news.

    National news is not going to help me when a wildfire is brewing over the mountains or when a young woman is raped at knife point in my local grocery store with her toddler screaming in the back seat. I want local news.

    Donna’s paper was my hometown paper and the one where I did my internship. San Pedro isn’t the same anymore without the News Pilot, and neither will any small towns benefit from losing their coverage.

    We’ve been reading this paper for a long time the way the Russians used to read Pravda: from the back to the front, paying close attention to the end of the stories. If you know the point of view of the writers–which comes from reading them–you can sift through anything as long as you gain insight.

  • Michael the little boot

    “If you know the point of view of the writers–which comes from reading them–you can sift through anything as long as you gain insight.”

    That’s probably the best statement on this thread so far, in my opinion.

  • Don S

    Michael @ 43: I agree that this is true. But I object to the writers pretending (or worse yet, denying) that they have a point of view. Let’s have these writers admit their point of view, so you don’t have to read them for a long time to discern that point of view and discount for it in their reporting.

  • Michael the little boot


    I agree. I wish there was more transparency throughout our society. When a politician says “I did not have sexual relations with that woman,” we know it’s shorthand for “Of course I did, I’m just more important than you and don’t have to admit responsibility.” Or when a famous actress claims she’s not pregnant, the opposite nearly always turns out to be true. Apparently, denial is the new acknowledgement. Integrity must now seek out the cracks and crevices, hoping it has more in common with cockroaches than previously thought.

  • michelle

    A lot of your dissatisfaction with reporters has to do with the changing nature of their training. Back in the dark ages when I was a reporter, we had to be able to articulate both sides of the story. We didn’t have to agree, but we had to be able to respectfully explain what the issues were from both points of view.

    I rarely see that anymore–which is why my family banishes me when they watch the news on TV. I can’t keep myself from shouting, “where’s the other side of the story?” Even if I agree with the reporter.

    A good reporter knows s/he has an internal bias. A good writer will ensure his/her reader can’t discern it.

  • john

    There are so few certainties Carl, I’m often bemused by my own delusions.

  • Don S

    Michelle @ 46: Good point. I don’t think many reporters even know how to find a good conservative source so that they can express articulately the point of view that is most different than their own. When they do decide to present the opposing view, they always go back to the same old sources — Jerry Falwell, until his recent passing, James Dobson, Gary Bauer, Ralph Reed, Bill Kristol, etc.

  • Michael the little boot


    I think I’d have a blast watching the news with you. :)One of the reasons I love NPR is they try to give both sides. I think they may be where integrity in journalism is making its last stand. How can we be truly informed if we’re not able to hear both sides and make up our own minds?

  • Of course, believing there are only two (“both”) sides to any story is itself a form of bias, one which Republicans and Democrats no doubt enjoy.

  • Joe

    There you are tODD – where have you been?

  • Joe (@51), um, Portland? No, I’ve just been busier lately. Much as I love the discussion here, it’s not exactly conducive to getting things done elsewhere. So I’ve been holding back a bit more.

  • Michael the little boot

    Ah, tODD. Always pointing out the subtleties. Nice.

  • Here where I am, the local paper is the Star Phoenix, with a nice mixture of local, national and international. Then there is the Sun, which is free, with some nice local stories announcements etc. Then, because I live in a small town close to Saskatoon, I get not one, but 2 free weeklies concentrating on local small town news. Is this much different down south in the US? Of course, the bevy of national papers are also available, with slightly localised versions (Globe etc)

  • Carl Vehse

    Has Time magazine announced Muntazer al-Zaidi as its Man-of-the-Year yet?