For Print Newspapers, Tempus is Fugiting

Photo by Jean-Pol Grandmont, and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

The solution to being 18th century technology is not becoming 19th century one-party newspapers!

Mickey East, a political science professor at the University of Kentucky during the 1970s, when I was a student there, used a bastardized phrase to encourage his students to get their work done, “Tempus is fugiting.”

According to Wikipedia, the expression “Tempus fugit” comes from line 284 of book 3 of Virgil‘s Georgics, where it appears as fugit inreparabile tempus: “it escapes, irretrievable time”.

Well, time flies for newspapers, which I have previously called 18th century technology, because people are abandoning printed materials.

U.S. newspapers continuing to die at rate of 2 each week

Despite a growing recognition of the problem, the United States continues to see newspapers die at the rate of two per week, according to a report issued Wednesday on the state of local news.

by David Bauder, Associated Press | Friday, July 1, 2022 | 10:26 AM EDT

NEW YORK — Despite a growing recognition of the problem, the United States continues to see newspapers die at the rate of two per week, according to a report issued Wednesday on the state of local news.

“A growing recognition of the problem,” huh? The problem is that time has flown by, and technology has overtaken the print medium. Yes, I subscribe to newspapers, The Wall Street Journal, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Lexington Herald-Leader, for my use as source material for my poor site. As I have previously mentioned, my hearing is seriously compromised, and I can read the news far more easily than I can watch and hear the news on television. More, when reading the news, if there’s something which was poorly worded or unclear, or that I somehow missed, I can go back to reread that portion, to lock it down correctly. To me, especially as a (poor) writer, trying to ascertain that I am getting things correctly is important.

But, let’s face it: my subscriptions to those newspapers, and all the рублей I am spending — The Wall Street Journal in particular is not cheap, and though this site has changed, I had originally planned to concentrate more on economics — are all digital; I not only don’t get the print editions, but out in the rural area in which I live, I cannot get home delivery of the dead trees edition. Heck, I can’t even get the United States Post Office to deliver the mail to me, so I have to rent a post office box!

However, it’s more than that. Before I retired, I used to pick up a copy of the Inquirer from the Turkey Hill in Jim Thorpe, to take to the plant. The guys complained that I should have picked up the Allentown Morning Call instead, because that was closer to local news, but it was, and is, a junk paper. Now that it’s been bought out by the hedge fund, Alden Global Capital, I’m pleased that I didn’t spend much money at all on the Morning Call.

Amusingly enough, for an owner of dead trees newspapers, Alden’s website opens up to an image of trees!

One of the issues with buying the Inquirer for the plant was that there were frequently sports stories which noted that ‘this game ended too late for inclusion in this edition.’ In the 21st century, we can always get our news up-to-date, by checking that internet thingy that Al Gore invented. And that illustrates the major problem for print newspapers: they are always several hours behind, in a world in which the news is reported minute-by-minute. I have no idea whether the Associated Press story referenced above will appear in the print edition of the Inquirer, from which I sourced it, but time stamped at 10:26 AM as it was, it cannot appear earlier than Saturday’s dead trees edition!

Areas of the country that find themselves without a reliable source of local news tend to be poorer, older and less educated than those covered well, Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Media and Integrated Marketing Communications said.

The country had 6,377 newspapers at the end of May, down from 8,891 in 2005, the report said. While the pandemic didn’t quite cause the reckoning that some in the industry feared, 360 newspapers have shut down since the end of 2019, all but 24 of them weeklies serving small communities.

Actually, even out in the sticks, we have not one but two local weekly newspapers, the Citizen’s Voice & Times and the Estill County Tribune, but who can know how long they’ll both survive?

An estimated 75,000 journalists worked in newspapers in 2006, and now that’s down to 31,000, Northwestern said. Annual newspaper revenue slipped from $50 billion to $21 billion in the same period.

Even though philanthropists and politicians have been paying more attention to the issue, the factors that drove the collapse of the industry’s advertising model haven’t changed. Encouraging growth in the digital-only news sector in recent years hasn’t been enough to compensate for the overall trends, said Penelope Muse Abernathy, visiting professor at Medill and the report’s principal author.

As I have previously reported, The Philadelphia Inquirer, our nation’s third oldest continuously published daily newspaper, and 17th largest newspaper as measured by circulation, still thinks that the taxpayers should be taxed to support journalists, to the tune of a refundable payroll tax credit of up to $25,000 per journalist to help local news organizations hire and retain reporters and editors.

In other words, the publishers of the Inquirer believe that the taxpayers ought to pay up to $25,000 of the salary of reporters and editors! Do ABC News or CNN have to beg for the taxpayers to subsidize their journolists’¹ salaries?

True “daily” newspapers that are printed and distributed seven days a week are also dwindling; The report said 40 of the largest 100 newspapers in the country publish only-digital versions at least once a week. Inflation is likely to hasten a switch away from printed editions, said Tim Franklin, director of the Medill Local News Initiative.

One of the newspapers to which I subscribe, the Lexington Herald-Leader, does not publish a Saturday edition, and what I see online on Saturdays makes it look like the reporters and editors are pretty much off on Saturdays.

But there’s more to it. When I look at the digital editions of the Herald-Leader and the Inquirer, since the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization it has become obvious: if those were your only sources of news, you’d not be blamed for thinking that six Supreme Court Justices are the only people in America who don’t support an unlimited abortion license. These newspapers have been wholly one-sided in their reporting on the subject.

What my, sadly late, best friend used to call the Lexington Herald-Liberal just published a fairly long story on the disappearance of Democratic voters in eastern Kentucky. You’d have to be a Kentuckian to really understand it, but it points out the problem for the newspaper: a paper which used to circulate widely throughout the counties east of Lexington — and I delivered the morning Lexington Herald and afternoon Lexington Leader in Mt Sterling, two counties away from Lexington, when I was in junior high and high schools — has few subscribers now, because there is little or no local delivery, but also because the newspaper has become so thoroughly urbanized to the city that it really has nothing for the more conservative counties to the east. As we have previously reported, the newspaper has consistently endorsed the candidates, all Democrats, strongly rejected by the voters in every county of their (former?) service area other than Fayette. If you don’t give something for the readers in the outlying counties, can you really expect to have many subscribers there?

In Pennsylvania, the Inquirer is steadfastly liberal and Democratic in orientation, publishing all sorts of OpEds and barely-disguised opinion pieces camouflages as regular news articles slamming Republicans and conservatives, yet, while Joe Biden carried the Keystone State by 80,555 votes in 2020, that was only due to his 471,050 vote margin in Philadelphia; absent Philadelphia County, President Trump had a margin of 389,495 votes. Much of Pennsylvania was strongly “red” and even Philly’s collar counties were only slightly “blue.” But the Inky gives those more conservative voters no reason to be actual readers of the newspaper.

Newspapers have more than a single problem. Yes, print newspapers, despite fancy colored printing and photographs, are simply updated 18th century technology, and the reduction in print subscribers has meant a dramatic downturn in advertising revenue. But they also have a 19th century problem: in becoming so highly slanted, they have reverted to the one-party newspaper style of William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer. In the 19th century, there were competing newspapers in every city of any size, and if readers of one particular political stripe did not like the slant of one newspaper, they could turn to another.

Today, few cities have more than one newspaper, but newspapers do have competition, from television news. If MSNBC and CNN are slanted to the left, Fox News and the One America News Network are slanted to the right, and consumers can do something really radical like choose the sources they prefer. That newspapers face serious competition from television news and the internet is obvious; when they respond by pissing off half of their potential readership, they compound their problems.
¹ – This was not a typographical error. The spelling ‘journolist’ or ‘journolism’ comes from JournoList, an email list of 400 influential and politically liberal journalists, the exposure of which called into question their objectivity. I use the term ‘journolism’ frequently when writing about media bias.

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