These have been bad days for printed words.
New Orleans, a city that desperately needs a newspaper to shine a bright light into its many dark corners, is without one with the closure of the Times-Picayune.
Now we learn that Newsweek, which was on life support, is headed for oblivion. It will join a stellar list of magazine titles in the cemetery of publishing, including Colliers, Life, Look, The Reporter, The Saturday Evening Post and U.S. News & World Report. The latter, like Newsweek, is confined to ectoplasmic afterlife on the Internet – ghosts of their former selves.
The golden age of newspapers began at the end 19th century, when growing literacy and improving technology made the newspaper a force in life. A similar revolution awaited magazines in the 1920s and ‘30s.
Like most journalists who are hard-boiled on the outside and a bunch of ninnies inside, I reach for the tissue box as fast as anyone when a bright star in the journalistic/publishing firmament goes dark. The effect on journalists is immediate and devastating; jobs are lost, the fragile wage structure is further undermined, copyrights become meaningless in cyberspace, and career opportunities diminish.
But the real loss is to the public discourse. The new journalism could be injurious to the health of the body politic.
It is loud, incessant opinion based on rumor, informed by prejudice and conceived for purposes political and religious, but always at heart polemical and ugly.
The rot within post-print journalism is not the means of delivery. Nothing will replace the tactile familiarity of a newspaper or magazine. But so be it. The real problem is money. The big money is not accruing to those who cover the news but to the carrier, the electronic paper boys, including Google, Safari and Yahoo.
The common carriers profit most from post-print journalism. But none of them has made much of an investment in covering the news. It costs money to cover the news, from U.S. district courts to foreign war zones. The Internet publishers cannot afford the old journalism, and they may not aspire to shoulder that burden.
Radio, with a few exceptions, was the first to move to opinion over facts for economic reasons. Then came the all-news, cable television channels.
Three of them – Fox, MSNBC and Current – are viciously partisan, and their owners like it that way. It is cheap and profitable.
The old journalistic ethic that you should give another point of view, still apparent in old-line newspapers, is dying out.
Such new entries as there are into magazine and newspaper publishing are supported, as in many small countries, by billionaires with an agenda, mostly conservative.
In the nation’s capital, there are two conservative newspapers competing with The Washington Post: The Washington Times, the money-losing daily subsidized by folks affiliated with the Unification Church, and The Washington Examiner, supported by the fabulously rich real estate and movie-house entrepreneur Philip Anschutz. This conservative activist also owns the influential Weekly Standard. All three carry the Republican cause on their sleeves, and publish no views from liberal columnists.
By contrast, the old-line Washington Post carries, along with liberal columnists, such voices of the right as Kathleen Parker, Michael Gerson, George Will and Charles Krauthammer.
There you have the new-media order: more opinion, less reporting and more one-sidedness. No need to bother your head with opinions and facts you might not like.
Contact King, executive producer and host of “White House Chronicle” on PBS, at firstname.lastname@example.org.