Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Detroit News Projected as One of Ten Dailies to Fall From Print

Financial media site 247wallst.com places the Detroit News on the endangered list of traditional paper copy along with newspapers from Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Boston.
With the fortunes of Detroit getting worse each day, cutting back the number of days that the paper is delivered will not save enough money to keep the paper open.
The News is a very good newspaper, as papers go today, often free of the lowest common denominator news and victim-driven stories that seem to drive most outfits. We should appreciate it while it’s here, and even though this prediction is that it will go to a full-time Web-only format, maybe as a newspaper romantic, I see it as something more.
Anyone who cares about the media knows that indeed, newspapers as we know them are about done. You are reading this because you appreciate a growing method of news distribution, i.e. the Web. In fact, you are among the primary reasons we are here. Another reason is the greed of corporations to maintain a profit margin for newspapers that is unrealistic, around the 30% range. Recall that traditional newspapers as recently as the 80s would hold onto margins as low as 2%. Everyone got paid a nice salary, great news was published and the arrangement satisfied most everyone. It was the pride of doing what had to be done; hard news had to be delivered and government had to be probed and forced to conduct its business in the open. Yes, there were features desks, but in the newspaper pecking order they were the lightweight division.
But when news began to become subjective – that is, when publishers and editors with an agenda began to decide what to cover and what to ignore – newspapers began to lose readers. When you ignore the flaming building and cover the parade, things are heading for the ditch. This was done at the behest of questionable focus groups which wanted more sensitivity in their news coverage, or at least that’s what we have been told. Weather stories and pieces about animals were the most popular stories, I was once told by a not-so-wise editor. Pieces that probed crime and the criminal element were scrapped at many papers, and local characters were seen as weirdos rather than interesting.
I was having breakfast in December with Larry Sells, the former prosecutor of Marion County, Indiana. A traditional crime fighting character who would be at home in any Ellroy book, Sells had sent some bad people away in his illustrious career. We were talking about a crime story I was working on and at one point, as we talked about the media and crime, he stopped.
“Why don’t newspapers cover crime any more, in depth, like they used to?” he asked me, genuinely perplexed.
I had no answer, other than the focus group excuse, which seemed lame at the time. But somehow, a collective decision was made that readers no longer wanted to hear about the legal process, or about how a crime came about, or about prisons. Edna Buchanan apparently has left the building and the doors were locked behind her.
But I later reflected that there may be no journalists left who are really able to cover crime or courts. They certainly aren’t trained in college by experience journalists. Unless they teach themselves, there is no place to learn.
Anyway, newspapers left readers with no place to go to find out about the flaming building.
And now, we very well could lose those red boxes that held the Detroit News. And that is all very sad. But to use a political analogy, the readers didn’t leave the newspapers. The newspapers left the readers.

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