Saturday, April 16, 2011

did boob woodward really say google killed newspapers?

you know bob woodward. i know bob woodward. we all know bob woodward, scrivener to the washington elites. he who's book on the war-making administration of dubya bush produced lots of hot headlines, as the author ushered us into the councils of power, at how vain, paranoid and otherwise very ordinary people in extraordinary positions cavalierly made decisions that resulted in crimes against humanity and crimes against peace -- and yet all went home feted and celebrated on front pages and the evening news.

bob woodward was once an aspiring young journalist who broke one of the biggest stories of his times during the watergate era. many other young people were inspired by the great stories of those times to pursue careers in journalism -- including even this writer.

they were exciting times, times when beat reporters were elevated to the role of guardians of the republic against the predations of the powerful. for guys like woodward, it was a hell of a ride.

for the rest, it was a ticket to a lifestyle that gradually consumed the young idealists and converted them into cheerleaders for corporate interests. it was in full swing by the time of the reagan administration, and has continued to build momentum ever since -- until today it's turned reporters into pitchmen for the political interests they supposedly cover, in exchange for access and exclusives.

bob woodward was quoted as saying that google killed newspapers, but the fact is that the publishers and the corporations at whose behest they run newspapers are what killed the news business (i'd included TV news into the analysis). news as a profit center just doesn't make bank. this is what has diminished coverage into a desperate race for circulation, ratings and clicks. there's no genuine concern for informing the public, which takes capital outlays that drive down margins.

it's stringers and bloggers who represent the future of the news business, because they work cheap. a few marquee names like woodward have enough celebrity appeal in their own right to obtain access on the one hand, and attract an audience on the other, that make their type of journalism salable. otherwise, serious coverage requires serious budgets to gain any traction, and that kind of support isn't forthcoming from publishers, who are essentially just as greedy as any other corporate executive whose bonus is contingent on the next quarterly results.

if anything, google has given some of these newspapers a much-needed boost in visibility, where they'd have sunk into oblivion in the web-centric world today. i see newspapers like the guardian make a fairly deep impression on the US market by embracing the new medium instead of blaming it. unlike some of the also-rans in that market -- including the new york times, LA times and the post -- you can just feel the unease of the publishers of these other properties, as they watch circulation and revenue sink, and address their declines with more half-hearted and desperate gambits.

it was an eye-opening revelation in salon this past week, when they reported that the post derives the lion's share of its profits from what used to be called correspondence schools, but which have evolved in the internet age into rackets that saddle students with billions of dollars worth of federally backed student loans. if you know anyone who's been sucked into one of these joints, you know what the scam is: lots of promises up front about opportunities and jobs, a piece-of-shit curriculum that lands graduates with no prospects but a lifetime of inescapable debts.

i watched over the years as my former newspaper fell apart -- which it's still doing, like a muffin that ends up in your lap, instead of your mouth. it's still publishing, though half-staffed and filled with half-assed, syndicated copy to fill the space around the ads. the dirty story about newspapers is not that they're necessarily doing so horribly, it's simply that they don't generate the kinds of profits that investors are looking for. even with ad linage is reasonably strong, the greed of publishers is stronger, leading to yet another corner being cut in the interest of profits.

i pity the generation of reporters who came along in woodward's footprints, who upon being laid off from their reporting and editing jobs have had to find new homes in the corporate labyrinth. fortunately for them, their skills are easily transferred to the world of public relations, where they can channel a career in trying to wheedle a scoop or a quote from a flack into becoming flacks themselves. it seems like an excellent way to prepare for a new career -- a much better ROI than one of the post's correspondence schools!

sorry, bob, but google didn't kill newspapers. newspapers killed newspapers. so many were just a vanity press for rich guys who wanted to run their towns, or feel like they had a lot of ass in the community, and eventually became cash cows in spite of the obvious stink of being in league with corporate and political power. when buying politicians outright became even more profitable than running editorials, what self-respecting plutocrat was content with operating the levers of power in such a public venue?

newspapers killed newspapers, and they aren't coming back, but the need for honest reporting about what the elites are doing is needed now more than ever. it's unfortunate that even with the internet, there's no viable model for sustaining the kind of operation that does what we rely on newspapers to do. there are all manner of sites and blogs and whatnot, but these are not the answer. as of yet, i don't know what the answer is...

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