Tuesday, December 23, 2008 1 Comment
Originally published December 11, 2008.
On Monday, the Tribune Company filed for bankruptcy. The company, which owns 8 daily newspapers (including The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times, and The Baltimore Sun), 23 TV stations and the Chicago Cubs, came into the possession of Sam Zell over a year ago. Its current debt comes out to roughly $13 billion.
Tribune Co. isn’t the only one suffering, however, and it was certainly in dire straights prior to the nation’s current economic woes. McClatchy, another prominent publishing company, said Tuesday at the UBS Global Media and Communications conference that they too are hurting due to low ad sales. Rumors are flying that they may have to sell off The Miami Herald, though Gary Pruitt, McClatchy’s CEO, offered no information regarding the claim. Even the New York Times Co. is looking to sell or mortgage their headquarters in Manhattan in order to scrape up $225 million. So it’s easily believable that Zell would be willing to bargain with recent rock star Rod Blagojevich to sell off the Cubbies in order to make a dent in that $13 billion debt.
What’s the deal? If things have been getting worse since before the economic crisis because of a decline in advertising revenue and circulation (among other factors), the implication is that the newspaper industry is dying. Readership is declining and because of this, advertisers are taking their business elsewhere.
The problem with this theory is that, while statistics regarding online news readership are rising surely, they are rising slowly (despite the seemingly-increased turn toward free online news content). Many more people are inclined to get their daily news via television, and this has been the case for some time.
So perhaps the decrease in advertising and circulation don’t even stem from a mass exodus toward other free news media. Maybe the problem is just that people care less about reading the news. As our brains begin to form a dependence on instantaneous resources like Wikipedia and Google, maybe we just can’t make ourselves concentrate on boring, real-life events for the entire length of a column. Sam Zell seems to think so-he’s already been working on re-vamping the Tribune to have “snappier layouts and shorter stories,” according to NPR’s David Folkenflik on Tuesday’s Morning Edition.
Admittedly, a good chunk-probably around $8 billion-of Tribune Company’s debt comes solely from Zell’s purchase and privatization, a sketchy deal in and of itself. But that doesn’t mean that the impending threat to all newspapers isn’t real.
There’s something to be said about the hard reality of a newspaper in your hands on your morning commute or during that post-breakfast cup of coffee. Quality journalism, especially in news reporting, is difficult to come by, and it will only become more so as journalists are forced to spend their time worrying about what everyone else is worrying about, instead of just writing about it: employment benefits and health insurance, especially for Tribune employees, whose pension funds Zell borrowed against in his purchase.
Not only do people miss out on more (and often better) news than what they find on television or political blogs, but their inattention also leads to “restructuring” (which Blago might be pleased about, should it pertain to John McCormick). In these worsening economic times, more people will be left jobless, and the wide range of experience and talent in the field of journalism begins a drastic decrease.
And for what? Sources like the Drudge Report and the Huffington Post? The debate over journalist ethics is a time-honored tradition, but do we as Americans and readers care so little about the integrity of our news that we’re willing to scrape it up from anywhere so long as it’s free of charge?
I know I’m biased-I write for a paper, despite writing an opinions column. But I can only believe we’re down, we’re not dead. And whether it’s the annoying scam banner ads online that are tailored to your browsing habits, the aggravation your eyes experience from staring at a screen too much, your desire for quality journalism, or just your longing for the feel of the morning paper in your hands, you’ll look back to your trusty standby. We’ll be here.
Chelsea is a senior in English and creative writing and is taking advantage of her Reading Day by drinking her coffee and reading the newspaper.