Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Why conservatives and libertarians shouldn't celebrate the fall of newspapers

My friend John Miller at National Review invited me to reflect on the Rocky's demise for the mag's online edition, and rather than lament the loss of our editorial page, I chose to talk about the loss of a valued civic institution.

Newspapers pay people to sit through endless city-council and land-use-planning and legislative-committee hearings, enduring the sausage-making process that is modern government. These reporters tell readers what’s going on and — when they’re at their journalistic best — what it all means. They take the trouble to analyze court decisions and search government records and decipher regulatory filings and pore through leaks from public-spirited civil servants.

They don’t get every story right, and they’re often captives of their sources. But even reporters who are lazy or incompetent or hopelessly compromised provide an irreplaceable service. They keep self-government possible, perhaps even manageable, at a time when the state is growing ever larger and more difficult to understand.

Meantime, my former boss Vincent Carroll and colleague Mike Littwin take on Jared Polis for gloating about the Rocky's collapse.

My piece went to NRO on Sunday, before reports about Polis' victory dance became public. But Littwin had the same reaction to Polis as me.

Polis ... issued an apology Tuesday to "anyone who was offended."

It's the typical, politician's, old- media-style, non-apology apology, in which he apologizes for, uh, getting caught saying what he really thinks.

As for Vincent, he notes what is not exactly the reaction you'd expect from an elected official in these circumstances:

If Polis welcomes newspapers' demise, so be it. If he had a particular grudge against the Rocky, who cares at this point? His comments Saturday and his damage control this week are disturbing not for what they say about his media tastes but rather because of what they reveal about his character.

When people lose their jobs, the normal human reaction is one of compassion. When a politician's constituents lose their jobs — and a number of former Rocky staffers do live in the 2nd District — the obligatory reaction is one of concern.

Polis revealed no trace of either emotion in his remarks at the Net- roots Nation in Your Neighborhood event in Westminster. In fact, he seemed to giggle — or smirk out loud — on a couple of occasions in referring to the Rocky's death. And he never so much as noted the human consequences of the closure.

Then there's Jeffrey Goldberg's post at The Atlantic:

I don't know too many Democrats who think that the death of a newspaper is a positive development for society. And by the way, "All of us" are the new media? I'd like to read the investigations of government corruption produced by "all of us." I imagine there are many journalists -- and advocates of government accountability -- wishing for the death of Polis's congressional career right about now.


Herb said...

Rick, there is only one problem:

When newspapers die, a public watchdog is buried with them.

You have cause and effect backwards, the newspapers (and MSM in general) have quit being a watchdog and thus they are dying.

Look at last year's election coverage or the endless stream of people in the current administration whose failure to pay taxes only come to light from the White House.

The problem is especially bad when last year and the lack of interest in being a watchdog is compared to the treatment of Bush.

If the MSM wants to be an attack dog for one side that is their right, but they then cannot expect us to mourn their loss because there will be no "watchdog". Having surrendered the flag they cannot wrap themselves in it.

Deregulator said...

The purpose of the NRO piece was not to defend the MSM and especially its national outlets. It was more to point out what I see as a blind spot too many conservatives/libertarians/Republicans show about the operation of the press, especially in local markets.

If your local daily disappears, who's going to inform you about pending property tax increases, or a utility rate hikes, or sweetheart deals between politicians and developers? Dennis Prager? Rush?

Those guys do great work, but it's not their role to tell you what's going on in your back yard.

And as the piece said, until somebody figures out a way to pay people to sort through all those meetings and hearings, you're going to be in the dark. And it's going to be party time for the folks in government.

Anonymous said...


As someone who fights to survive in the business, I agree that we have (sadly) cast aside the consistent, street beat coverage of local town, village, school, county, parish, planning, zoning, and other related municipal meeting.

Instead, we now offer Kristi Gustafsons who give our bosses stories about bikini waxing (google it) and being the older woman in a relationship - when you're 28 and he's 22.

We focus on crime and trials, which are both easy to cover and offer the soap operatic drivel that is better suited for afternoon or late-night television. We report on the most moronic story of the moment and think only about what's happening right now.

Take the market. Everyone's screaming "the sky is falling" because the Dow dove from 14,000 to 6,700. We forget late-2002, when the Dow plummeted from 11,700 to 7,000 after Enron, WorldCom, Tyco, and Long Term Capital Management (which ought to be as well known as Coca Cola in our society). Markets go up. Markets go down. Read Benjamin Graham. The man knew what he was talking about some 70 years ago. Nothing's changed. Well, the first names and the widths of their ties.

We hire high school quarterbacks and prom queens on local and national television, and an endless line of Nepotism Networkers for the rags and mags. They look really purdy (sic). They don't know what the hell they're talking about, but they sure do look nice.

Do you really think John P. Normanson deserves Commenatary any more than the New York Post, Weekly Standard, et al?\

Do you really think Luke Russert should be at NBC? Or McCain's girl at Tina Brown's Daily Beast?

Do you really think Irene Jane Liu (google her New York Times story) deserves the Times Union, Albany's answer to the Post/late-Rock?

How about Andrea Koppel? Or Ben Bradlee's kid? Or Ziggy's "stunning superficial" daughter? Or Joe Buck?

We write and air purdy (sic) stories spoon-fed to and later told by purdy (sic) people for an audience that, per our well-compensated consultants' (see Journal Register Co.) advice to publishers, editors, and more importantly investors, will be only to happy to eat it up and smile.

Then we watch our readership nose dive.

I'm certainly not the first person to point out these facts. Hell, I'm probably the last. And I liked your piece on NRO. Surprised me at the amount of logic you employed. Reminded me of Stuttaford on most anything and Derbyshire on Iraq, Schiavo, and, of course, El Lardo, Buffalo Butt, the Obese Drug Addict, with power on loan from Big Pharma.

Give my best Lucianne Goldberg's little boy, another overweight feeder on the Nepotism pseudo-media food chain.

Sorry, had to file this anonymous. I need another password like Mike Steele needs another Joey Scarborough beat down.

Eddie Smith said...

The local and national MSM leave the regular voter but one option when they fail in the watchdog role - withdraw support - to the media outlet and the folks that advertise in them...

The freedom of choice is the only option when the watchdog becomes the attack dog of one side...