Journalism’s problem may not be the Internet, indeed

1 Oct

Earlier this week, a Connecticut newspaper editor set out to explain “the problem with journalism these days.” The result was a staggering case for more diversity and digital literacy in the leadership of traditional newsrooms.

Chris Powell, managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, deserves tons of praise for his leadership in accountability journalism over the years and continuing. But his Sept. 28 column, “Journalism’s problem may not be the Internet,” is off-base on many levels.

He confuses the health of journalism with the health of the traditional newspaper business, and the Internet as a competitor to journalism instead of a journalism tool and delivery method. But let’s put those points aside.

Powell blames the Internet for “allow(ing) people to indulge their particular interests at any hour of the day to the exclusion of everything else, to live always in the narrowest of worlds rather than in a broad one.” That would be OK if people were interested in how their tax dollars are being spent, or what curriculum is being approved for the public school system, or, in Powell’s words, “that an airplane had just crashed a few streets away.” But no, an increasing number of people don’t care about those things, Powell says. They only want to know about the “Boston Red Sox, Miley Cyrus and sunspots.”

Not “traditional households,” mind you. Powell says that “newspapers can still sell themselves to” households that consist of “two-parent families involved with their children, schools, churches, sports, civic groups, and such.”

He blames single mothers and non-native English speakers for killing newspaper journalism.

“Even in a supposedly prosperous and well-educated state like Connecticut, how strong can demand for those things be now that half the children are being raised without two parents at home and thus acquiring developmental handicaps?” he writes.

And proceeds with this doozy: “… Newspapers cannot sell themselves to households headed by single women who have several children by different fathers, survive on welfare stipends, can hardly speak or read English, move every few months to cheat their landlords, barely know what town they’re living in, and couldn’t afford a newspaper subscription even if they could read.”

I’d like to catch up with Chris at some point to find out what “developmental handicaps” my own children are “thus acquiring” because there’s no traditional second parent in my household. But I’m figuring that white male newspaper editors might get a pass in this particular view of the world.

It takes a special kind of misogyny to believe that the decline in print newspaper subscribers is due to women who get pregnant out of wedlock. Maybe the decline really started with women getting the right to vote, or working outside of the home?

It takes a spectacular sense of denial to miss the trend away from print media across all socio-economic categories.

And it takes a stunted and isolated concept of journalism and business opportunities to believe that single mothers, minorities, low-income people and non-traditional families don’t care about the plane crash down the street, their tax bill or their children’s health or education, or that they don’t buy the products your advertisers are selling.

There is another way. Embrace and learn about the diversity of your community. Make your newsroom more diverse, including positions of leadership. Use the power of the web and mobile devices to reach new readers in new ways, increasing the civic engagement of your community in the process.

As I write this, crews are dismantling the once-mighty printing presses of the New Haven Register and carrying most of it away for scrap metal. But we’re at a high point in recent memory in terms of the accountability journalism being produced in our newsroom. Our audience is the largest in the newspaper’s history, dwarfing the bounds of the traditional print circulation we used to be limited to. And digital revenue growth is replacing print advertising losses.

Single moms who care about what is going on in their community are a big part of our present and future success. But Powell is right that they don’t necessarily want or need the newsprint or narrow view of news he is peddling.

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9 Responses to “Journalism’s problem may not be the Internet, indeed”

  1. Matt Terenzio October 1, 2013 at 2:53 pm #

    Thanks Matt. I have to laugh sometimes or else I’d get angry. Recently, a house explosion rocked my neighborhood in Stamford. I thought it was an earthquake. Via Twitter search, TV, and news.com updates (as well as people in the street), I had some information long before the presses rolled. Can’t even imagine that we are somehow less informed these days. Sure, in-depth local coverage of certain subjects often happens in the traditional article format, but even that is changing as journalists engage the online communities. And just because most everyone had a newspaper 30 years ago doesn’t mean they read every article. I often used to skip the coverage of the Board of Education meetings and head straight for the Red Sox story. Well, Yankees. ; )

  2. Paul Bass October 1, 2013 at 3:19 pm #

    Whoa.

    BTW, did white people stop reading about the Red Sox, listening to Miley Cyrus, and dealing with sunspots? I didn’t get that memo.

  3. Doug Hardy October 1, 2013 at 6:21 pm #

    That’s amazing . . . he’s been writing that column over and over again for the last 20 years in one form or another.

  4. Walt October 2, 2013 at 2:54 pm #

    He is blaming the wrong folks, I would say.

    His publication in New Haven has laid off so many newsmen that it now contains too little news to be worth any where near the price it demands,

    They changed most formats in the paper They have recently made the paper into little boxes of news, with few details and even eliminated the hundred year old Old English masthead which made the paper stand out.

    As a now- handicapped guy who needs, and was promised home delivery close to my door, I seldom find the paper there, and the Register seems not able to correct problems with its own delivery system.

    I’m pretty much fed up, and get much more local info from Paul Bass’s on-line newspaper than from the Register.

    He and his group have changed editorial policies far to the left, and I seldom see an editorial which does not raise my ire.

    Look in the mirror, Mr Powell. and at your own cohorts, That is where most of the blame lies,

    • mattderienzo October 2, 2013 at 2:56 pm #

      Walt,

      I think your confusing Chris Powell’s paper and mine.

      Matt

      • Walt October 2, 2013 at 3:13 pm #

        Matt

        I guess I did . I laid it at his feet as I misread that he was a top guy in CT for your chain.

        Apologies, Mr, Powell

        Comments re the Register stand however.

        Sorry Mr. D(orT)erenzio

        Walt

  5. Bill October 2, 2013 at 3:19 pm #

    There is too much opinion in the news and perhaps always was that way but now there is choice and my choice is not to subscribe to the New Haven registers opinions, I can get my news in many places.

    • Walt October 2, 2013 at 5:08 pm #

      I messed up again as it looks above as though I’m accusing Paul Bass of the leftist editorials which are really in the Register

      I thought the New Haven Independent was leftist too , until the
      Register made I the Independent look almost conservative.

      Both the Independent and the Register should be complimented for their willingness to print opposing views however

      Walt

  6. Tom Foremski (@tomforemski) October 2, 2013 at 6:20 pm #

    Journalism is in trouble because there is no adequate “value recovery mechanism” attached to its practice that can create a sustainable business. It’s not about paper versus electron – distribution is not the issue, it is about: How do we build a sustainable news organization that can thrive and compete with others?

    Advertising doesn’t work that well on the Internet and so there’s very little money to be made by a news organization, and even less from mobile ads. Paywalls aren’t doing that well, either.

    News organizations need what I call a “Heinz 57″ business model — many varieties of revenues to succeed. But managing many revenue streams is very hard, especially when each revenue stream is likely dealing with downward pricing, as in advertising.

    So, yes, the Internet is indeed to blame because the Internet economy hasn’t found a way to compensate journalists for their work. And the media disruption continues: in old school newspapers and in new, online news ventures such as The Daily Beast, which are unencumbered by legacy costs and attitudes as newspapers are.

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