The Internet has presented a problem for traditional newspapers. They’re all wailing about losing money, and many journalistic icons are struggling to keep their headlines above water.
But the real problem facing newspapers is their self-inflicted lack of credibility. Somewhere in the middle of the Clinton era, even the most respected newspapers began peddling stories that were more about sensationalism than substance. Maybe it was O.J.’s gloves or Monica’s blue dress, but the media seemed to become more obsessed with lurid details than real journalism.
Fueled by the attack on the World Trade Center and encouraged by the Bush Administration’s army of propagandists, newspapers gave up any pretense of legitimate journalism and began peddling government Newspeak. They allowed themselves to be manipulated by spin doctors. They became mouthpieces for the military invasion and occupation of Iraq. They switched from investigative journalism to reprinting government and corporate press releases.
Newspapers aren’t selling because they no longer offer anything of value. When faced with an army of new media rivals, they gave up on the first part of their name—NEWS.
Newspapers were successful because the public could count on them to provide up-to-date, well-written, well-researched news in an inexpensive, convenient format. The era of the traditional, oversized newsprint format may be ending, but the need for real journalism is greater than ever.
If newspapers are to survive, they must find their niche. They need to provide readers with something they can’t get elsewhere. Honest journalism. Quality writing. Convenience. And yes, advertising. It remains to be seen whether they can figure that out.
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