Every time an Internet page loads, a newspaper journalist gets his wings. Which is to say, said journalist is dead.
With news content available through countless portals, our unrelenting appetite for information is growing ever larger. As a result our palate is becoming less discriminating. We have become a nation of news junkies relying upon a steady diet of fast food news delivery and brain candy. Contrary to popular belief about the flagging newspaper industry, editors and journalists have seen this coming for many years. The level of consumption is hardly the problem; rather it is the proliferation and subsequent commoditization of content that has quelled the appetite of both the consumer and advertiser to pay for it.
These are desperate times that call for desperate measures as evidenced by Washington Post Publisher Katherine Weymouth’s much criticized, and now defunct, plan to sell access to key Washington insiders to the highest bidders. On the surface there should be little issue with arguably the most powerful political news organization in the nation leveraging its influence to make a few sheckles. (Hey, what we do ain’t cheap.) But it calls into question the integrity of the product by blurring the lines of independence—the very thing that is supposed to set newspapers apart from other media.
Suppose all of the George Baileys in the media business could examine American history sans the free press. My guess is it wouldn’t be such a wonderful life. Where would democracy be today if our founding fathers didn’t intimately understand the importance of freedom of the press? (Mind you, it probably didn’t hurt that they all seemed to own a newspaper.) Perhaps no one excoriated the free press more eloquently than Thomas Jefferson. But it was Jefferson who famously noted that a free press without government would be preferable to government without a free press. Actually, we don’t have to look that far back or tell our troubles to Clarence on the bridge. A quick glance around the globe and you will that find bloggers are being censored in Iran, the Chinese government is mandating the installation of software that blocks certain websites, and France is nationalizing its daily newspapers, all shocking occurrences in a modern society—except for that bit about the French.
So what qualifies as “free press” in today’s world? The very concept of a free press indicates that no one controls the information that is reported. The question of who ultimately owns the news—the advertiser, the reader or the publisher—is a terrific debate in and of itself. Can a medium that censors advertisers based upon certain beliefs truly be trusted? What if the medium doesn’t discriminate against funding sources? Marketplace on National Public Radio, for example, is sponsored by ConAgra and Monsanto (the axis of evil). Heresy, to be sure, but I still trust NPR’s journalism more than most.
A traditional news-gathering operation such as the Long Island Press has to maintain a delicate balance between supporting our advertisers and dispensing news in an objective manner. Having the fortitude to write a negative piece or review about a company or institution that supports you is a task that would make any business owner sick. But, in the words of Hyman Roth, “This is the business we have chosen.”
Unfortunately for Long Islanders, the prepackaged load of steaming manure that our local daily paper has become is an affront to all truth-seeking journalists. Don’t get me wrong, they may still be the 800-pound gorilla in the room but the storied past of Newsday, complete with Pulitzer Prizes and one of the greatest foreign bureaus ever assembled, is officially deceased. But don’t expect a Michael Jackson-sized funeral for these journalists toiling in Hades; they have all quietly received their wings while the Dolans ventilate their corpses on life support.
But hey, how ’bout that redesign?
I wonder what they would charge for a cocktail party with Tom Suozzi, Steve Levy, Peter King and James Dolan? I’d pay at least a hundred bucks for that picnic. We could gather around a campfire of freshly ignited Fios cable boxes and useless newspapers and sing “Auld Lang Syne” while toasting the death of journalism.