THINKING FOR OURSELVES
Breath of Hope
By Shea Howell
Michigan Citizen, Mar. 3, 2009
Two major newspapers filed for bankruptcy at the beginning of the week. The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News announcement came on the heels of a similar declaration by the Journal Register Company, which publishes over 20 daily newspapers including the Oakland Post and the Macomb Daily.
Newspapers across the country are on the same journey. In early December the Tribune Co. in Chicago sought protection from $12 billion in debts. It owns 12 newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune, two of the eight largest newspapers in the country by circulation. The Minneapolis Star Tribune followed in early January.
Within three months four owners of 33 U.S. daily newspapers have sought bankruptcy protection. Most analysts doubt that these companies will be able to emerge from bankruptcy without agreeing to serious changes. Most predict a greater shift to online editions, moving away from the printed page. They also predict more layoffs with fewer reporters for local, national and international news.
Metro Detroit readers have already watched our own papers shrink in size, content, circulation, and publication days. It seems the daily newspaper and the weekly news magazines are becoming relics of another time.
The decline of the news business is nothing new. Newspaper circulation has been steadily falling for more than a decade as readership shifts to the Internet.
The newspaper industry, on the whole, has refused to look critically at what is happening. Most sum up the problems in a very superficial way. They see it as a shift in form, not substance. They argue that the problem they face is not a fundamental question of journalism, but how to make the shift to the Internet and still earn advertising dollars. Although newspapers have seen tremendous growth in online readership, print advertising has brought in $8.2 billion while online operations last year brought in only $750 million.
U.S. journalists are facing a much more complex problem than a technological shift. The problem with today’s newspapers is not that they are losing money, but that they have betrayed their responsibilities to democracy.
Rather than asking why they are losing advertising dollars, newspapers should be asking why they managed to miss the three most important stories of the last few years: the selling of the Iraq war, the depth of support for the Obama presidency, and the economic corruption on Wall Street. They should also ask why they are not able to provide local coverage of issues that matter to citizens.
Freedom of the Press was not enshrined in the Constitution so that news outlets could sell us things. It is there because, in a democracy, we need to know about ideas, issues, actions and trends so we can make decisions about our future.
This month we learned of a new publication that is showing something of what the best in journalism will look like in the future. FLYPmedia.com came to Detroit to do a story on our city. Instead of focusing on our already well-known ills, they developed an engaging, interactive, visionary article, “Breath of Hope: The people of Detroit are beginning to imagine a new life for their near dead city.”
FLYP editors say that their online magazine is “about what moves America and Americans, covering everything from politics to lifestyles; social issues to cultural developments’ war to peace; music to movies.” FLYP, they say, “is an innovative online magazine that simulates the experience of reading a physical mag but with multimedia bonuses like animation and video. It’s a good place to check out stories that push boundaries and are relevant to Americans today.”
FLYP, too, is a breath of hope. You can find it at FLYPmedia.com.