Don’t Bail Out Newspapers

Nice rant by Daniel Lyons.

The only beneficiaries of a bailout would be a handful of big newspaper companies that used to be profitable and powerful and now, well, aren’t. Those companies saw the Internet charging toward them like a freight train, and they just stood there on the tracks. They didn’t adapt. Why? Because for decades these companies enjoyed virtual monopolies, and as often happens to monopolists, they got lazy. They invested their resources in protecting their monopolies, using bully tactics to keep new competitors from entering their markets. They dished up an inferior product and failed to believe that anything or anyone could ever take their little gold mines away from them.

It’s hilarious to hear these folks puff themselves up with talk about being the Fourth Estate, performing some valuable public service for readers—when in fact the real customer has always been the advertiser, not the reader. That truth has been laid bare in recent years. As soon as papers got desperate for cash, they dropped their ‘sacred principles’ as readily as a call girl sheds her clothes. Ads on the front page? Reporters assigned to write sponsored content? No problem.

And moreover,

Meanwhile, all of us need to get over this pious notion about the sanctity of the newspaper. I’ve been a journalist for 27 years, and I love that romantic old notion of the newsroom as much as the next guy. But I recently canceled my two morning papers — The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal — because I got tired of carrying them from the front porch to the recycling bin, sometimes without even looking at them. Fact is, I only care about a tiny percentage of what those papers publish, and I can read them on my computer or my iPhone. And I can rely on blogs and Twitter to steer me to articles worth reading.

As for all the hand-wringing about the great “in-depth” information that only a newspaper can provide, let’s be honest: the typical daily newspaper does a lousy job. It tries to provide a little bit of everything — politics, sports, business, celebrity stuff — and as a result it doesn’t do anything particularly well. Ask anyone who’s an expert in anything — whether it’s bicycle racing or brain surgery — what they think when they read a newspaper article about their field. Chances are they cringe, because the material is so dumbed-down, and because it’s so clear that whoever wrote the article has no real expertise on this topic.

He’s right. Alas.