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.