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Volume 16, Issue 51 - December 18 - December 24, 2008
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A World without Newspapers

The victim is not just the giant media; It’s readers who want legitimate news


The basis of our government 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.

–Thomas Jefferson in letter to Col. Edward Carrington: Jan. 16, 1787


Jefferson’s words are very strong indeed. Despite Jefferson’s undisputed penchant for freedom of thought, who would have ever thought that in our United States of America a citizen might ever be called upon to choose:

            Government without newspapers?

            Newspapers without government?

            With all due respect to Jefferson, as one who has been a full-time newsman since 1947 other than for a year in the early 1950s when as a salesman I made much more in wages but reaped far less in pride and satisfaction, I consider making such a choice virtually impossible. Methinks you can’t have one without the other.

            Yet in these tumultuous times, the virtually impossible is upon us — with potentially dire consequences far more reaching than any reader would have considered 25 years ago. The only possible saving grace: We have reached this state of affairs not because of political pressure by bad government. Instead, the cause is a combination of economics and a lessening interest among readers to ferret out real news, information and entertainment via the traditional route: reading daily newspapers.

            Newspapers aren’t what they used to be. Slippage of integrity and credibility can be noted in even the biggest and best. In the fight for survival, the dailies have compromised more than a few aspects of true journalism. Yet for the most part, the change has come slowly enough that readers might not have noticed what was going on.


Our Dimmer Sun

            For weeks I have been preparing to fill this space with a reader’s and long-time writer’s assessment of the newest new look of the new Baltimore Sun, the preferred daily of many readers of this area. In its Oct. 24 issue, The Sun — where I toiled for nearly 40 years — unveiled its latest of many changes in its fight for survival. As with just about all daily newspapers, the change was not for the better. The backroom bean counters played a prominent role in the new Sun.

            As a reader, my disappointment was mixed with anger; the once mighty Sun — ranked a half century ago in the top 10 newspapers of the nation — had turned to pandering. The new look was an embarrassment; my Sun became a mishmash of news, features, columns, graphics and photos. Little was where it had been before, and you had to hunt for real news.

            Get past all the pizzazz, and what did we have? A newspaper akin to People magazine, heavy on pictures and graphics, glitz, gossip and glamour while ever lighter on pages, words, news and advertisements: in sum, a sheet designed to suggest to readers they were getting more for their money than previously. Which they weren’t.


Bankrupt Journalism

            A not-so-funny thing happened as I scrutinized my daily Sun for this column. On Dec. 8 the Tribune Co. — which owns The Sun as well as the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times and a few other prominent daily newspapers, many television and radio stations and such — filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Some of its newspapers were turning a profit, but not enough to carry the debt load of $12.8 billion that covers 110 of the company’s 127 subsidiaries, The Sun reported.

            This came as personally shocking news. In retirement, each month I receive a check from Tribune Co. Depending on decisions made via bankruptcy court, the main source of my income could be jeopardized — though Tribune pretty much says otherwise at this time.


© COPYRIGHT 2008 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.