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    Sky Falling: But Caveat Emptor In Consuming New Media

    by | 5 | Apr 27, 2010

    U.S Newspaper circulation suffered its biggest drop in over fifteen years as reported today by the Audit Bureau of Circulations. The annual report indicates an average weekday drop in circulation of 8.7% in the six months ending March 31st.  Sunday circulation saw a fall of 6.5%.

    The Chicago Sun-Times said that national journals showed large weekday losses, with the San Diego Union-Tribune falling 22.7 percent, the Washington Post declining 13.1 percent, and USA Today losing 13.6 percent. The Chicago Tribune was down 9.8 percent to 452,145 weekdays and down 7.5 percent to 858,256 Sundays. The Wall Street Journal was the only one of the top 25 papers to gain in circulation — 0.5 percent.

    My adopted home town paper and sometimes employer, the Charlotte Observer, trumpeted their own decline today stating, in Charlotte, the Observer shed 21,000 daily readers and lost 18,400 on Sundays, a decline of 11 percent and 8 percent, respectively. Additionally they noted double-digit percentage declines at some other major Carolina dailies, led by a 17 percent daily plunge at the News & Record in Greensboro.

    As evidenced by your very reading this piece online, more and more people are getting their news, opinion and entertainment content from non-print sources online and otherwise. Much has been written about this trend over the last decade and the newspaper as we once knew it has been declared dead more times than any nine-lived cat ever.

    The evolution and convergence of media is certainly nothing new and is being embraced in many circles, particularly with younger readers and technology adapters who use digital forms of media to inform and entertain themselves.

    Credibility and journalistic integrity in particular I think bear mindfulness and warning as we turn increasingly online for our daily “news”  fix.

    Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the overwhelming majority of print journals establish and maintain journalistic standards and integrity in their reporting. Fact checking, source verification and access for rebuttal and response are cornerstone elements and sacred for any journal worth the stock it’s printed on.

    Editorial and News functions remain separated by mostly effective Chinese Walls that are established to prevent inherent conflicts that exist between the business — and make no mistake about it, a newspaper is a business — of running the paper and the editorial position of the institution. While most if not all of the mainstream print media has  online beachheads that carry on these standards, many online publishers and bloggers do not.

    The barrier for entry to online information dissemination is access to a P.C. (any library can provide this) and a modicum of spare time.

    Consumers of political perspective and news who turn to the internet, more specifically the blogosphere, for their sustenance have no assurance that anything they read is factually accurate, verifiable or even from an identifiable or credible source.

    David Wallace, author of One Nation Under Blog (Brown Books Publishing Group), written by a U.S. Department of Homeland Security Advisory Council member and 3 term former mayor of Sugar Land, Texas, builds a solid argument for injecting a code of conduct and ethical responsibility into the exploding forum of information exchange and influence found online in the blog-o-sphere.

    Recognizing that unfettered conversational speech provides the very element that makes blogging unique and a dynamic forum for political dialogue, Wallace acknowledges that this can be the underlying Achilles heel of the political blog if not held to more universal standards.  Personal responsibility, fact verification, blog monitoring for unacceptable content, refusing to allow for harassing, stalking or threatening of others, copyright infringement, and privacy violation all make it into Wallace’s common sense code.

    As newspaper circulation continues to plummet, the question we should be asking ourselves is not how will we replace our beloved papers, but how should we be more informed consumers of what replaces them.

    ###
    Michael J. Solender

    Michael J. Solender

    Michael J. Solender is a recent corporate refugee whose opinion and satire has been featured in The Richmond Times Dispatch, The Winston-Salem Journal, and Richmond Style Weekly. He writes a weekly Neighborhoods column for The Charlotte Observer and is the City Life Editor for Charlotte ViewPoint. His micro-fiction has been featured online at Bull Men’s Fiction, Calliope Nerve, Danse Macabre, Dogzplot, Gloom Cupboard, Full of Crow, Pangur Ban Party and others.

    You can find more of his work at his website and also at his blog.

     

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    • I make my living from a community newspaper, which I think is handling the decline in print a lot better than its national counterparts. Unlike a daily, a community newspaper covers the events that nobody else covers. If you want to see who did best in bowling last week, or who celebrated their 50th anniversary, you have to turn to your local paper. That being said, I don’t like the way local newspapers are headed, either. I think they’re losing their way, focussing on centralizing rather than doing what they should be best at: covering local news.
      I think it’s incredibly sad that the industry is losing its way.

    • I’m really not sure what the ruling elite expected when they embarked on a program of restricting access to currency to the majority of the population. More important, what did they expect when it was decided that all adults should be employed for wages and, if at all possible, hold down more than one job. Did somebody forget that there are only twenty-four hours in a day and that, if a human is to maintain a modicum of sanity, eight of those hours are needed for sleep, or at least snoozing, when it is impossible to read? If you take away time and money, it’s not likely that newspapers are going to be bought and read. Free circulars probably work as well to line the canary’s cage. Though people keeping canaries is probably down, as well.
      That said, the accuracy of newspapers has long been disputable. On the one hand, “stories” became formulaic (beginning, middle, end — i.e. history, current event, prediction as hook for next story); on the other, “gossip” being easy to collect, much that was/is reported is just that. “Confirmation” means that more than one person says the same thing. This accounts for the invention of “spin.” I can attest that it is very difficult not to spin when a reporter who’s been attending a three hour meeting then asks participants what happened. That’s what journalists were being trained to do thirty years ago. The training has borne fruit.

    • BubbaPicasso

      The decline of newspapers and the decline of journalism are two very different things. The former was ruined by corporate greed, an economy in trouble and a cheap and widely available alternative. Drops in newspaper circulation have nothing to do with accuracy, Monica. Accuracy is a much bigger issue with the Internet, which pays writers far less (if anything … eh Michael?) and does not hold reporting to the same standard as print once did. The web gives us cake, and we eat it.

      Good journalism … accurate journalism … ain’t cheap.

    • quincy dee

      Good commentary, Bubba P (love that name!) . That’s the crux. Accurate journalism ain’t cheap, but the “great” corporate pubs are trying to get by with paying writers almost nothing. What’s happening to quality is inevitable. Why should good writers bother to write for a newspaper nearly for free? Getting one’s own own website is also nearly free. Where there is good quality there should be SOMEBODY should be willing to pay for it. Fnding out who these poeple are and getting the message across is the hard part.

      • BubbaPicasso

        Thanks, Quincy. We can amen each other. Your question holds the key to the future for journalism, journalists and newspapers.

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