Posted 208 days ago
[Newspapers] are being targeted by investors who have figured out how to get rich by strip-mining local-news outfits. The model is simple: Gut the staff, sell the real estate, jack up subscription prices, and wring as much cash as possible out of the enterprise until eventually enough readers cancel their subscriptions that the paper folds, or is reduced to a desiccated husk of its former self.
Is the loss of local newspapers an indicator of the growing powerof capital in our society? Absolutely. But whether or not we should lament the closing or transition of these newspapers is not some right or wrong absolute, but depends on the structure of each newspaper. Just because they are local does not mean that they are automatically good. We must look at each case and determine if they are worth saving or letting go.
This is somewhat anecdotal, but take for example, the Winston-Salem Journal, a local newspaper in a city of North Carolina that I lived in for awhile. It has a clear ideological lean towards business, and primarily covers entrepreneurship or crime. It's a for-profit business. I was very unhappy with its reporting, and if it were to fold, I don't think that's necessarily a good or bad thing for the city.
National newspapers that are being taken over must be criticized in the same way. Coppins points out that many lost large amounts of profits once Craigslist, Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc. moved into the fold. If their business structure was based primarily on advertisement (and we now criticize this Big Tech companies for this same reason), why on earth do we consider it a good business model to keep around? Coppins tries to offer a reason:
When a local newspaper vanishes, research shows, it tends to correspond with lower voter turnout, increased polarization, and a general erosion of civic engagement. Misinformation proliferates. City budgets balloon, along with corruption and dysfunction. The consequences can influence national politics as well; an analysis by Politico found that Donald Trump performed best during the 2016 election in places with limited access to local news.
This is a serious comment that Coppins off-handedly writes, but needs to be analyzed deeper. I'd suggest Joseph Bernstein's 'Bad News: Selling the story of disinformation' from Harper's as a counterargument to Coppins.
I love reading investigating journalism (from The Atlantic, to The New Yorker, to Harper's, to Jacobin, what have it), but I seriously doubt the business model set up in a lot of them. The New Yorker, for example, is owned by Condé Nast, an absolute behemoth of a company that owns tons of other magazines and media (many of which are not at all "intellectual" like The New Yorker). Sure we love it and it's writing, but let's not act like it's some morally superior thing. It's a serious money-maker, but that's kind of what the world is about. If we want to preserve journalism, it maybe shouldn't be dependent on the capitalist market, but some sort of public good. So instead of lamenting the businesses, I would propose instead an alternative form of journalism (non-profits, NGO's, etc.), not lamenting the capitalist takeover of capitalist enterprises. If you are in the game, you have to play it. If we believe seriously in its moral value, we need to operate under a different structure.