Sunday, June 13, 2010

More Evidence of the End of the Relevance of Newspapers

In a Politics Daily column (here), Walter Shapiro makes a good case that local newspapers, suffering the ravages of plunging revenues, readership and gone reporters are failing us at a new level.

He brings up the coverage of two interesting nationally-prominent political primaries, one in Kentucky (Rand Paul) and the other in South Carolina (Nikki Haley). The races were covered by national outlets, not so much for substance, but because of sex and goofiness appeal. The people of those states were left to wonder what the hell was going on. Their local papers and even the bigger regional papers in their states didn't have anybody on the campaign trails examining these illogical, but so far successful candidates, both Tea Partiers. Haley is a virtual shoo-in for governor, due primarily to the fact that the Democratic Party imploded in a state where it hardly matters anyway. Why? Don't ask the Columbia State or the Charleston Post and Courier. They weren't there to find out or predict.

Paul, who has shown us much more than he intended--mostly on TV--since he won the primary, has pulled back into a PR-controlled shell in the last little while after we suddenly found out a bit about him. After his victory.

Shapiro points out that newspaper newsrooms nationally are a fourth smaller than they were just nine years ago, and, frankly, they weren't exactly fat then. One daily in Roanoke is losing circulation at a dizzying speed: 10 percent in the past year, with weekday circulation below 80,000 for the first time since god knows when.

It is sad to have to root around on a variety of blogs--many with people who aren't journalists and know little about reporting--to find out what's going on. Some of the citizen reporters--Valerie Gardner comes to mind--do a good job of covering important, semi-important and interesting events, meetings and gatherings the local daily can't or won't cover. It's often astonishing what goes uncovered for days at a time, some of it eventually winding up on the pages of the paper or, less frequently, on television.

The coverage of the nationally-targeted 5th District congressional race, which drops right into our living rooms in Roanoke, since it borders us, is thoroughly inconsistent in the traditional news resources, but when I catch a word or a sentence here or there, I can run it down online. Sometimes I end up at a newspaper's site (usually the Lynchburg News Advance or the Richmond paper's site), but most often on somebody's blog or even the candidate's site.

I'm seeing a lot more coverage of politics via press release, and that's sad. Newspapers aren't going to improve, since they're leaving us one subscriber at a time, but I'm wondering if the fallback system will be in place before the papers have blown away. We'll just have to see.

(Graphic from

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