The Death of Newspapers

Depending on who you ask, the American daily newspaper is either dying a slow death or bleeding uncontrollably. Band-aids —
in the form of cut-backs — have slowed the bleeding in some cases, but few in the industry are optimistic about the future. Bill Stamps looks into this decline.

Ever since most people can remember, it’s been an American ritual, the morning cup of coffee and the daily newspaper. But listen to what this TV newscast predicted back in 1981:
“Imagine if you will sitting down to your morning coffee, turning on your home computer to read the days newspaper.Well, it’s not as far fetched as it may seem.”

Things have certainly changed in 28 years. Now, if you type the name Rihanna on your computer this is what you’ll get.

(Rihanna’s music)

You can watch a her video and download her songs for free. That technology has decimated the music industry and it’s threatening to do the same to the newspapers. Lee Warren used to be a copy editor for the Houston Chronicle before he was laid off.

“A good example, I just recently had my car in the shop and I asked my mechanic where does his advertising dollars go. He said ‘well at one time it went to the newspaper, but now I’ve been tracking all of my clients and I see that most of them are coming from online now’.”

Last December Tribune, publisher of the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times and the Baltimore Sun, filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy. Hearst, owns the Houston Chronicle, has already turned the Seattle Post-Intelligencer into web only paper and has threatened to shut down the San Francisco Chronicle unless the union makes concessions. Dan Cunningham is a managing editor at the Houston Chronicle.

“Hearst has mandated that we make some pretty extensive cuts in terms of staff, in terms of budget, in terms of travel, in terms of newsprint and we’re doing those.”

But the money the papers get from advertisers is shrinking every month. Jimmie Wales is the co-founder of Wikipedia, an internet type of encyclopedia. This interview was taken from NPR’s Biotech Nation:

“If I want to shop for an apartment, I would rather go to an apartment website or Craigslist, and there’s no inherent reason that needs to be tied to my local newspaper the way it used to be.”
Wales doesn’t want to see the newspaper die. He and others question who will be the watchdogs of society if there are no true journalists.
Remember Woodward and Bernstein:

“I’m Bob Woodward of the Washington Post. Mr. Markham are you here in connection with the Watergate burglary?”

Without those reporters we may have never known what happened at Watergate and who can say how the nation might be different today. The Houston Chronicle‘s former editor Lee Warren and current editor Dan Cunningham say we need dedicated journalists, not bloggers.

“Politicians will feel as if there is no scrutiny so we can do what we want to do…because if we aren’t watching police departments and city officials who is?”

Remember that 1981 news story. Here’s how it ended:

“Engineers now predict the day will come a day when we get all our newspapers and magazine by computer, but that’s a few years off.”

Almost thirty years later that time is just about here.

Bill Stamps KUHF Houston public radio.

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