All errors should be reported to

Friday, August 07, 2020

Don't bother saving newspapers

The headline in Forbes was a crazy contradiction. It read, "Craig, the billionaire behind Craigslist, is spending nearly $200 million to save journalism, beat President Trump and end information warfare."

The purpose of journalism is not to beat a president. The purpose is to inform. That's it. As for ending information warfare, I suspect that is a fancy way of saying silencing voices that do not conform with whatever today's conventions are.

The story was an interview with Craig Newmark, who founded Craigslist a quarter-century ago, which gutted the classified ad sections of newspapers. Those were cash cows that kept travel budgets healthy.

The story said, "Newmark is not here to talk about his corona virus diagnosis or his net worth (to which he says, 'No comment'). He’s here to talk about misinformation — why he thinks it is destroying America’s democracy and what he’s doing to stop it. Since 2016, Newmark has given $170 million to journalism, countering harassment against journalists, cybersecurity and election integrity. These areas, he believes, are the 'battle spaces' of information warfare. The enemy, according to Newmark, are not just foreign adversaries like the Kremlin — it includes the adversaries’ domestic allies. Asked if he views President Donald Trump as one of those domestic allies, Newmark demurs, but suggested Fox News correspondent Chris Wallace’s July 19 interview with Trump as educational material. The interview, which showed Wallace contradicting the President over his claims that America had one of the lowest Covid-19 mortality rates in the world, was called a “'master class in how not to let Trump get away with his usual bullshit' by Trevor Noah, comedian and host of The Daily Show."

Actually, we do have a low mortality rate. But why bother with facts when you can dismiss them as bullshit?

Newmark's $170 million over 4 years is a pittance.

5 years before he began Craigslist, the combined circulation of American newspapers was 62 million. Now it is less than half that.

At $1,000 per subscriber (the going rate for newspaper sales in the 1990s) that meant they were worth a combined $62 billion.

McClatchy just sold 29 papers with a combined circulation of 1.6 million for $312 million or $195 a subscriber. Not bad. I've seen worse. But that's a lot of equity to lose.

The Internet and cable television are to blame for the loss of readers, but the writing is poorer and the bias is obvious.

The story on Newmark provided a good example of bad reporting.

Forbes said, "On the day of the interview, Newmark was particularly worried by what was happening in Portland. Just days before, according to a readout from the Department of Homeland Security, peaceful protests in Portland had grown violent, with alleged anarchists tearing down the perimeter fencing of the Hatfield Federal Courthouse. In response, federal officers were deployed in Portland. President Trump tweeted in defense of the federal government’s involvement in the protests, writing, 'We are trying to help Portland, not hurt it. Their leadership has, for months, lost control of the anarchists and agitators. They are missing in action. We must protect Federal property, AND OUR PEOPLE. They were not merely protesters, these are the real deal!'"

Peaceful protesters do not try to burn a building down.

While I realize Forbes is a magazine and not a newspaper, the problem is the same. Today's journalists believe readers are too stupid to see through them.

Newspapers have lost half their customers in the last 30 years. Many of them simply died and were not replaced by younger readers who get news elsewhere, and receive their shopping circulars in the mail.

As a monthly recipient of a newspaper pension for my 30 years at the defunct Charleston Daily Mail, I suppose I should show some respect for my old trade, but the loss of even the appearance of objectivity is too unacceptable. Good bye, old friend.

Thomas Jefferson wrote to Edward Carrington from Paris on January 16, 1787, "the basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. but I should mean that every man should receive those papers & be capable of reading them."

That is not a ringing endorsement for today's newspapers.

Quite the opposite.

Jefferson said the opinion of the people is the basis of our governments (plural). Newspapers have wasted the last three decades silencing the voice of half the people who are conservative, and now half of the remaining half for not being liberal enough.

If newspapers cannot respect the opinions of three-quarters of the nation, then newspapers should not expect any respect.


  1. "thee combined circulation of American newspapers"

    Thee? Are you going all biblical on the newspapers Don? ;)


  2. Is it true that Forbes is now Chinese-owned?

  3. I remember two things the dean of my journalism school said: Plagiarism was a sin beyond redemption, and the United States did not have terrorism because of a free press. The media would print their manifestos. Today the terrorists are the media.

  4. In his June 1807 letter to [future Michigan senator] Frank Novell, Jefferson wrote, “Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper...[T]ruth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle.”

  5. "President Harding succumbs to death"? what kind of sentence is that? everyone eventually succumbs to something...SMDH

    OTOH, I would agree that Mr. Coolidge did "succeed" him as President, as few others have

    1. I believed President Harding lingered for several days deathly ill before he actually died. It wasn't anywhere close to the lengthy drawn-out-over-months death of President Garfield, but Harding's death was not sudden or unexpectedly instantaneous. Hence the locution of "succumbed to death," which I will grant you reads a bit like the 1970s movie title "Murder By Death."

  6. Dragging Watergate Urkel out ever other week to utter his “worse than” catchphrase about trivialities shows the depths journalism has sunk to.

  7. Hey they make great bird cage liners. I never read them. Fold them up after the birds are finished and throw all of the crap out at one time.

  8. Just the facts on earth did we become such lackies to political parties and special interest groups instead of thinking for ourselves by putting the puzzles together on our own?


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.