"Family control has sheltered all three newspapers from Wall Street's most insistent demands, allowing them to do high-quality—and high cost— journalism. It was said, and widely believed, that the controlling families were animated by a high-minded sense that their papers were quasi-public institutions. Of course profit was essential to their survival, but it was not the primary purpose of their existence. That one of these families might finally take the money and clear out heightens fears that no newspaper is so valuable to the republic that it cannot be knocked down at market for a nice price. Murdoch at the Journal is a dark omen for journalists everywhere. When the sign in the shop window says "Everything For Sale," it is often followed by 'Going Out Of Business.'and of the results when the stock market bubble burst in the early 2000's, he says:
Journalism was being whittled away by a Wall Street theory that profits can be maximized by minimizing the product. Papers everywhere felt relentless demands for improved stock performance. The resulting policy of slash-and-burn cost-cutting has left the landscape littered with frail, failing, or gravely wounded newspapers which are increasingly useless to any reader who cares about what is happening in the world, the country, and the local community. Cost-cutting has reduced the number of correspondents stationed abroad, shriveled or closed news bureaus in Washington, and crippled local reporting staffs which once kept an eye on governors, mayors, state legislatures, small-town rascals, crooks, and jury suborners. It has also shrunk the size of the typical newspaper page, cutting the cost of newsprint by cutting news content.Baker gives little credence to the argument that the Internet is the great enemy of print publishing, suggesting, in fact, that it should make for better journalism. He puts the blame squarely on corporate management, who has moved newspapers' responsibility away from its publics and to its shareholders.
At Book/Daddy, Jerome Weeks, noting Baker's article, says:
"...So the next time a newspaper announces [that] it's trimming or killing book reviews, remember: It's not because of New Media, it's not rising illiteracy, it's not from any purported loss in advertising from the publishing industry. The cutback is the direct result of management decisions on what to value, which readers to sacrifice, how to please Wall Street."Finally, on a more humorous, but not unrelated note, here's the beginning of Leonard Pitt's recent column, "No Escape in the Era of Viral Knowledge," retitled "Harry Potter Hype is Impossible to Ignore" for my local paper. Pitts is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Miami Herald, which was my local paper for quite a while, and considered one of the best newspapers in the country. The Knight family sold the paper last year, and Pitts makes a not-so-subtle allusion to what may be going on as a result (besides the fact that the first item in the online banner-below-the banner today is "Holy Cow: bovine loose in Miami Lakes"):
"Harry Potter dies in the new book. It's tragic, really. Accidental cauldron explosion. Eye of newt and wing of bat everywhere. He gets impaled by a flying dragon snout. His last word is: 'Rosebud.'
"OK, I made that up. Please stop shrieking now. And for heaven's sake, don't cancel your subscription. We only have 17 subscribers left, and there's a rumor that if we lose one more, it'll be the end of free soap in the lavatories."If you want to find out what's been happening to book coverage of late, and how you can help stem the tide, check out the National Book Critics Circle's Campaign to Save Book Reviews here.