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How a Newspaper Dies (politico.com)
139 points by spking 7 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 108 comments

25 years ago Wired (which at that point was a pretty good magazine) published Michael Crichton's speech on the future of newspapers, Mediasaurus: https://www.wired.com/1993/04/mediasaurus/

And it seems like not much has changed...

Concerning the Denver Post, I realized long ago that the function of the local newspaper was selling ads, and only looking at approved scandals.

There was plenty of fraud going on in the site choosing, site bidding and construction of the new Denver International Airport ; and the Denver Post never investigated any of it. Some improbably large amount of concrete was paid for during the construction of the airport, and I don't think that it was because of the alien underground base... a simpler and more logical explanation for this has to do with large bags of cash...

EDIT: Note that the best journalism you can find on it, was done by Westword, which used to have escort/gay/gentlemen's club ads in the back and was given away free (they now are making $$$ because all the ad space is bought by marijuana advertisers). http://www.westword.com/news/speak-no-evil-5056426

Wow the rabbit hole goes pretty deep there. Update on the execrable Zinser, who fired Deans [0]. One has to assume that for every case like this that comes to light, many other cases do not...

[0] https://votesmart.org/public-statement/962803/misconduct-of-...

Thank you very much for that link! Zinser should have lost his pension...

Or Hamilton Holt, 1909.

[T]his is the explanation of the condition that confronts most publications to-day. By throwing the preponderating weight of commercialism into the scales of production, advertising is at the present moment by far the greatest menace to the disinterested practice of a profession upon which the diffusion of intelligence most largely depends. If journalism is no longer a profession, but a commercial enterprise, it is due to the growth of advertising, and nothing else.


Essentially advertising has become a threat to the old models of how ideas and the market place of ideas are supposed to work.

Advertising subsidized many functions, and then it became the purpose of those functions.

Ads are the threat.

How old is "the marketplace of ideas", exactly?

Forever? The modern form in my opinion, is an enlightenment era creation.

Can’t read the jstor art but the duke art is in line with what I have said.

That's interesting, that quote implies there a time when newspapers existed without ads, but was there?

That's a question complicated by context, and that context is complicated by printing technologies, costs and economics, literacy rates, general industry and manufacturing, and the general need for such advertising.

Short answer: yes, there was, or rather, the advertising which was carried was of a very different form. Much closer to classifieds than display ads, and often for sale of land, businesses, or other valuable but one-off property. The bulk of revenue came from subscriptions.

As Holt notes, sale of bulk-produced goods dates to about the mid-19th century, at least in the US (it's slightly eaarlier in Britain) with the introduction of mass-produced goods in quantities greater than could be sold in any one local market, and the transport systems (canals, later railroads) to disstribute them. Amongst the first adverts were patent medicines, the viagra spam of the day.

Consider too that literacy was limited, about 25% in England as of 1800, an as low as 5-10% in rural areas or less-developed countries. The primary driver of improved literacy was itself industrialisation and factory work. Some proficiency with basic reading, writing, and arithmetic, if not deep logical or philosophical thought, was required. (A conflict which has dominated public education debate, policy, and battles ever since.)

Press speeds, paper costs, and issue sizes also evolved tremendously through the 19th century. A wooden "wine press" could produce perhaps 120 impressions per hour with a skilled press team, priinting one side at a time, and requiring a day between sides. The result was a four-page folded broadsheet. By 1900, electric-powered, steel-framed, rotary web, offset prosses cranked one million impressions per hour and could produce, if memory serves, a 12-page publication (three sheets, double-sided, folded), linotype-set, but without photographic halftones (that process arrived in the aughts or 1910s).

Pulp paper (and the lumber necessary for it) arrived in the 1830s. Petroleum-based inks would have followed petroleum, found in bulk in 1859 (Drake's well, Titusville, Pennsylvania).

Prior to all of this, newspapers were small in size, usually weekly, limited-circulation, catering mostly to business owners, and expensive. Another form emerged in the late 18th and through the 19th and early 20th centuries of party papers, specifically dedicated to a particular political party, still indicated in names such as the Arizona Republic, originally Republican.

This formula started changing with Benjamin Day's New York Sun, a cheap (1 cent vs. 5), popular, advertising-driven, and sensationalist publication founded in 1833.

There's a large literature on these subjects, addressing many elements, from technical to social, economic, political, cultural, and more. I've mentioned Robert W. McChesney among the media theory witers. Tim Wu, The Attention Merchants, addresses some of this.

I've compiled a "light" bibliography:


in many areas of the country the only investigative reporting is done by local news stations. they at least have to compete against another to retain viewers. in my own city the paper got better with closer ties to one of the stations but they are more blinded by PC issues than money. Most of that because an election needed to be guaranteed at the city level

Our local (Lansing) paper has a full section on national news and another on sports which are both dated and stale. Add in another section of USA Today which is both dated and stale.

I want just local news. In depth pieces on sports that go beyond the score. Our excellent minor league baseball team, the Lugnuts, isn't covered by our paper at all!

Add in investigative journalists covering politics and local university. Heck the biggest story at the university in fifty years was broken by the Indianapolis paper hundreds of miles away.

I think if the paper did all those things and updated the mobile app more than once every three days they could triple the number of subscribers.

The problem is that sports and national news is super cheap and easy. You just pick and choose a few articles from AP that sell across the country. Investigative journalism is expensive, local journalism has a tiny audience which makes it expensive.

Would you pay the same amount for a newspaper that only had the current quantity of local and investigative news? Or would you pay a lot more for one that had the desired amounts?

It's like lamenting that your burger has a thin beef patty, a mountain of fries and a large soda that's half ice: you paid $5 for the meal, plus the overhead, they can't put $4 worth of beef in it so it's mostly filler.

Also, Lugnuts drool. Whitecaps rule!

Yes they're defaulting to easy and putting out an inferior product. I'm willing to pay the same for a smaller paper that contains more of what I want.

More importantly could you double or triple the number of subscribers? I don't have an easy way of knowing for sure unless someone tries it. They could have fewer ads but charge more for them if they can get more subscribers in the 18-36 range.

I admit with the economics of actually printing the paper it might make more financial sense to go entirely digital. Sadly I haven't seen anyone do that successfully.

There's a hyper-local newspaper [think a small city's version of a high school newspaper] where I live. I should subscribe, especially since the neighboring larger-city's newspaper recently laid off their beat-reporter for the smaller city where I live.

"Just Local News" appears to be increasingly niche.

I agree. Won't we always need local news?

Disclaimer: I work for media news group. I can look out the windows in that pic from my desk.

While the article is true, it doesn't show the whole picture. Alden capital recognized an opportunity: Hundreds of newspapers with brand recognition and skilled employees. While the newspaper will die, these two things can be used to make money / slow the death a bit.

The solution is "adtaxi". All the MNG newspapers act as local sales people, account managers, etc and use their local newspapers brand recognition to generate sales. Adtaxi is the digital fulfillment agency - so newspapers can sell social, search, and programmatic advertising.

This is a growing chunk of each newspapers revenue, but something I haven't seen mentioned. If Alden capital really wanted to make money, they'd recognize the viability of this model to scale, and that would in turn save newspapers. The problem is newspapers are stuck with tons of old employees, old money, and old ways of doing things. They don'y want digital to save them, they'd rather die doing what they know.

The solution you describe is actually the problem the article points out: MNG is killing the actual newspapers they are making money operating.

Anyone remembers something akin to "TV tax" ? It was a tax paid to sustain national TV (media) in a large scale, which provides them the possibility of being independent and not struggle with financing problems. It is simple, and it works, but I guess it's not an option anymore. Without a guaranteed unbiased source of money we cannot claim to have independent news or news that serves global interests (with global meaning the pool of contributors which in this case is close to global). Local news are not interesting. If you want to know what happened in your neighborhood, go out and ask your neighbors, talk to them.

We have a kind of “TV tax” here in the Czech Republic. (AFAIK the system is more common in Europe.) It mostly works, the “national TV” is much better than the commercial ones overall, in quality journalism. It is also under a constant attack from various politicians and other people, as it’s obviously inconvenient for them.

Regarding local news, I run a local newspaper in a town of about 11 thousand people and I strongly disagree that local news aren’t interesting. Having a good local newspaper is an important catalyst for higher quality local government, for example.

I've experienced both UK and Czech TV/radio tax and can confirm that both are better quality than their commercial counterparts (though the BBC is on a downward trajectory) and are under periodic attacks by the right-leaning parties.

They're surprisingly cheap too - it works out something like 2160 CZK/year (US$100) for Ceska televize/rozhlas, and 150 GBP/year (US$200) for the UK TV license.

Yeah, we have something similar in the UK for the BBC, where we pay for a TV license for the service and its programming. Not quite a TV tax (since it sustains all parts of the BBC rather than just their TV programming), but it works well none the less.

(Though it'd be nice if something similar funded other TV networks and media organisations too, since everyone's struggling in today's economic climate and a good media setup can't just be one organisation).

Look up Robert W. McChesney, who's been arguing for similar concepts for decades.

Sounds like the BBC here in UK?

This may not be the proper place to ask - but I'm generally disconnected from the news cycle outside of tech and sports, mainly because I don't know of any good, objective news sources.

Is there anything that you or anyone else on HN can recommend?

There's no such thing as an objective news source, the act of selecting "news" or "not news" is subjective.

But given that, the best strategy is to step outside news targeted at you. Read foreign coverage of your own country. In the UK, I'd suggest the Irish Times as a starting point. The FT is also good as it's targeted at a specialist audience and not the general public.

There is no such thing as an "objective" source of news that is without bias. All publications express bias through their editorial decisions on merely what stories to cover and not cover.

Not that I recommend it, but if you're looking for a relatively neutral way of 'staying informed' about current events, follow a news wire service like Reuters or the AP. Just don't think that either of them is giving you a complete account of anything.

I built an app called Read Across The Aisle that offers a variety of news sources across the political spectrum and has a timer that tracks the aggregate political bias in your news consumption.

The app is free — and provides free access to the WSJ, thanks to a generous partnership they offered us.


Have you considered collaborating with https://mediabiasfactcheck.com/ to expand the list of analyzed sites?

Haven't heard of them before but will check it out. Thanks!

Would love to try it out, but I use FF and Android

We'll probably be on FF soon — it's not a super difficult port from Chrome.

The Economist.

It's classical Liberal. Derided by the left for being pro market. Nicknamed 'The Ecommunist' by bond traders.

The articles are short. Read through it every week and you will get a better understanding of the world for your time than pretty much anything else will give you.

Diversify for viewpoint, and filter aggressively for straight bullshit.

Top-tier US print sources, national news organs, some cross-aisle sampling, and various monitoring of chatter, international media.

NY Times, Washington Post, Wall Streeet Journal, Christian Science Monitor. Good, though all have a net strong institutional bias.

NPR, PBS, CBC, BBC, Deutsche Welle, Al Jazeera, ICIJ.

Bloomberg strikes me as quite good, see also news wires: Rueters, AP, AFP.

Sample headlines out of London, France, Tokyo, Beijing, Moscow, etc.

Recognise that some organs are highly propagandistic.

FT, The Guardian, The Economist, Mother Jones, Democracy Today, ProPublica.

Monitor network news headlines: ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox.

Right-wing talk: Hannity, Carlson, Jones, Limbaugh (all nutjobs, but with large audiences and strong influence.)

Metasources include reports on influence or corruption. Sourcewatch and On the Media, groups such as FAIR or Project Censorship are on my list.

I've cut way back on my own news exposure as 1) it's crazy-making and 2) tremendously non-strategic. I periodically monitor the above, though mostly I dive deep into themes of interest, guided by the overarching question "what are the Big Problems?". I've been kicking around the idea of what a true news dashboard or other interface might look like.

Personally, I try to subscribe to subreddits like r/news, r/worldnews, ... and a few subreddits on both sides of the American political spectrum; I find that it's been good enough for me so far.

If you think r/news or r/worldnews are neutral, I've got some bad news for you...

I never said I thought they were neutral; I just use them as one way to get a view of what's going on in the world.

r/NeutralPolitics might interest you, but it's kinda slow in activity.

> Anyone remembers something akin to "TV tax" ? It was a tax paid to sustain national TV (media) in a large scale, which provides them the possibility of being independent and not struggle with financing problems.

Yes, I do. I live in a country that has one.

> It is simple, and it works,

For some value of "works", and only if you're being generous. We don't have an independent publicly financed media, they are PR outlet for a political faction just fine.

You would do much better job by first learning what the world outside your country has to say about those simple ideas of yours.

>You would do much better job by first learning what the world outside your country has to say about those simple ideas of yours.

1. This sounds a bit condescending

2. E.g.: Switzerland just voted to keep theirs. Seems to be seen as desriable

3. OPs problem wasn't that they are an outlet for a political faction, but that they struggle to finance themselves and are almost forced to pander to an audience to attract advertisement

4. Living in a country where the state financed media is heavily status quo biased (germany) but also produces and finances some of the most scathing criticisms of the same (Boehmerman), I feel we need to be wary of false equivalences. State financed media isn't a perfect panacea to political pandering, but it's definitely better than the cesspool that comes from having only private media sources (or depending on the 'good will' of billionaires)

The Swiss voted to keep it but a huge minority voted to scrap it - a much larger chunk of the vote than the Swiss establishment had expected. I think they only won the vote in the end by promising some reforms.

The UK funds the BBC in a similar way. I used to think it led to better results, but frankly I don't see much difference in quality of output between BBC, ITN and Sky News - they all suck in exactly the same ways. It's not surprising given that journalists all a pretty homogenous lot. If the BBC license fee came up for vote I'd be tempted to scrap it.

BBC News Online in particular feels like it's degraded significantly over time. It used to be hard news, all the time. Now half the stories are lightweight human interest stories, and it's absolutely flooded with feminist / identity politics virtue signalling crap. I feel like the last 10 times I went there, probably 8 of them had multiple "why women are wonderful" / "about an inspiring woman" stories on the front page. Maybe they're being driven by click volumes or something, I don't know, but if they are they may as well just be a fully commercial entity.

The BBC was forced to scale back its website(s) because of complaints by the private sector that it was unfair competition. For example,


They argued that the BBC was using its guaranteed income from the licence fee (originally for just TV and Radio) to crowd out the competition in the UK, by being too good...

Their website still has just as much content on it as before, it's just differently focused. I don't really believe anyone in the newsrooms there said "hmm we have a lower budget this year, all we can afford is feminism!".

> BBC News Online in particular feels like it's degraded significantly over time. It used to be hard news, all the time.

Last year the BBC had a story about how their own news website has changed over time [0]. It concentrates on the format rather than the content but the screenshots do seem to show a higher density of 'hard' news info per page.

My gut reaction is to agree with your comment about lack of hard news. However, I decided to check for myself, looking at the first screenful of today's front page [1 - unfortunately not a permanent link]. It has 13 distinct topics (on my large monitor), and the main topic (N Korea and Trump) has two pictures, one short sentence, and three sub-story bullets. I was pleasantly surprised to see that most of the headlines are in fact informative statements (e.g. "1,600 skilled workers denied UK visas") although one ("Celebrating mixed-race identity") needs you to click through and isn't news as such. Whether these stories do in fact represent today's real issues, or have been picked to conform to the BBC's own agenda (whatever that may be), though, remains an open question

(Hmmm. I'm accessing the BBC website from the UK (the clue is in the '.co.uk'). What does the rest-of-world facing site (bbb.com) look like? I used Google Translate to check the non-uk version [2] and this seems also to have 'hard' headline statements although there is a different mix of stories.)

[0] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-41890165

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news

[2] https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=en&tl=fr&u=h...

That first link is pretty damning. You're right, the older images are almost all of hard news.

Here are some of the stories I see on BBC News currently:

- N Korea threatens to cancel Trump summit

- Italy's populists plan to defy EU rules

- Body clock linked to mood disorders

- Controversial Russia-Crimea bridge opens

- Row over World Cup flirting manual

- New Girl bids bittersweet farewell

- Bank chief sorry for menopausal gaffe

- Anne Frank's dirty jokes uncovered

- Meghan's dad may miss wedding over surgery

- Celebrating mixed race identity

- Why is Spanish ham so expensive?

- Ghana shoe seller takes on ex-dictator

I'd say that the vast majority of these are lightweight human interest stories, several of them are just ID politics masquerading as news and some are both. Why is stuff about TV show New Girl on the BBC News front page?

The story about the "menopausal" gaffe turns out to be that a Bank of England governor described some economies as "menopausal, past their peak, and no longer so potent". This apparently is a gaffe worthy of being in the business news section. It's not clear to me why it's even a gaffe to begin with. Do feminists now argue the menopause isn't a biological event at all? Apparently they do, according to some random economics professor at some random university (the BBC loves quoting academics) - "It conveys a rather derogatory view of women. I've never thought of the menopause as not productive".

It's really pretty trashy. Very different to how it once was.

> the world outside your country

with respect, do you consider yourself "the world outside [their] country"?

it's certainly worth hearing various opinions, but i'm skeptical as to how much you "speak for the world outside".

It's not just newspapers. Journalism as a whole is shrinking rapidly. Concerns over privacy and personalized advertising will have long terms impacts on ad revenue. Ad revenue is the primary way through which journalism is funded. Unless you have a great brand like the Economist, or the Wall Street Journal you're in trouble. To do well you now have to write content that people are willing to pay for. That's a pretty high bar to reach.

I honestly think there just isn't enough innovation in the newspaper industry for it to survive. Newspapers are too old school to innovate/iterate their models.

For example, mng has 50+ newspapers. Why not identify 10 different ideas and test them out on a few newspapers. Some bad ideas that get my point across: - Have a reddit-style front page with upvotes/downvotes - Put all articles on a map so users can see whats relevant near them - Ask users to sign in to facebook and google on the website so that each ad is more targeted and provides more revenue

> I honestly think there just isn't enough innovation in the newspaper industry for it to survive. Newspapers are too old school to innovate/iterate their models.

This frustrates the hell out of me. The public greatly needs the journalism, not the paper and ink. Despite decades of warning and preparation, many just can't seem to embrace the new medium and find profitable models. You can see it in their generally awful websites: Nobody designing a website from scratch, including for news, would make those choices; you could show me dozens of unidentified news websites and I expect I could easily pick out the newspapers. Also, they can't seem to embrace any medium of communication but text, as if it were 1995 and other media on computer were just being developed. They are still trying to stick to paper-and-ink layout and mediums, just displayed on a website.

The New York Times is scary to watch. I know people laud its digital efforts, but I suspect that's based only on reputation because I haven't seen anything laudable. They also can't seem to fully integrate other media; the other media is displayed beside the text, not integrated fluently into it as most bloggers or social media users could do - imagine communicating with images! Looped animations! Short video clips! Their social media manager, at least as of several months ago, was someone who didn't use social media himself. A little while ago, a NYT IT staffer's wriieup of their newly developed "text editor" was posted here - they used the term repeatedly, but it wasn't a text editor; it was a content management or enterprise publishing system; they didn't seem to know that basic terminology - at the NY Times! (It's not that I care about terminology, it's that it's a red flag - if someone referred to a CMS as a "text editor" in an interview, I'd be concerned.)

TLDR: News media has tried desperately for many years to innovate. The internet killed what was left. Finally – thinking about “news” is outdated. News are previous era artisanal bread bakers, vs modern factories which A/B test and mass produce sliced bread (engagement).

Underlying it all is the mistake in assuming that truth matters, in an advertising revenue based system. Longer - If you pay for specialist news sources, even today, you will immediately see a massive difference in detail and quality of information. For at least 70+ years, if not centuries, the News world has tried to stop the effect of advertising on media. Media targets human brains, and human brains care for rewards more than “truth”. If a newspaper sells salacious gossip for cheap, they obtain a huge readership. This in turn provides them with advertising power and thus revenue. This also translates into political power. Take a look at Murdoch’s empire other than Fox news. All of this generally came under the name “the faster news cycle”. Once we as a species switched to 24/7 news, human attention spans came under increased pressure. This forced news channels to move towards even more sensational (engaging!) news in order to keep their place.

And then came the internet. The internet destroys the paid classifieds section, the only thing allowing many smaller news papers to stay afloat. The internet and coders also create tools to perfectly answer other questions “which format ensures maximum engagement, and time on site”. Which font, which design. Which words? An unwholesome amount of human experimentation is done, from game design to UX/UI design to best create addictive sites. This further saturates the average human attention span, and at this point overwhelms it. In todays day and age, News websites are…. Not about traditional news. Everything is about “hacking” the human brain to make it do something. This is all “content”, which has to be “engaging” or “viral” or “addictive”. We are dealing with the industrialization of thought, and the actual product is just “content”.

So to ask for Innovation, is to ask a dead man to act. You could have them innovate all you like, but the moment they land up on some sub reddit it just gets converted into echo chamber fodder.

I'd add to this a somewhat controversial stance: I'm not sure that the world needs or can sustain journalism as a job anymore.

Let me explain a bit. By "can sustain", I mean that the whole point of being a journalist is objective reporting, with cultivating trust as a goal. Without trust, a journalist is no better than a blogger with a writing degree. Except I don't think that trust meaningfully exists anymore. Most news in the largest nations is in the hands of a handful of gargantuan monied interests, and with there being no legal obligation to divorce fact from opinion from advertising, they probably will not, so long as not doing so remains as profitable as it has been.

What's the substantial difference between a journalist you can't trust to distill pertinent facts from events, and a random blogger you have no reason to trust in the first place?

One makes more money. Maybe. Are you sure you didn't just read a native ad?

By "needs", I mean that faced with this loss of trust, individual people are going to have to do what they should have been doing in the first place, namely choosing their news sources carefully and paying more attention to subtle and not-so-subtle bias. It's a huge mistake to rely on media credentials as a proxy for likelihood of telling the truth, yet that is the entire concept of journalism as a career path.

> Most news in the largest nations is in the hands of a handful of gargantuan monied interests

That was true for a long time, but the Internet in fact greatly increases the news options:

The Internet lowers barrier to entry compared with the old newspaper (presses and distribution costs) and TV (broadcast facilities, spectrum licenses, etc.). My locality has several publications that wouldn't exist without the Internet. Also on larger scales there is the Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, ProPublica, etc. etc. etc. Think of the world of IT news; how many of those would make it as print publications?

The Internet also makes news from other localities far more available. I can easily read news from all over the world; in fact HN links to it.

The Internet and web technologies also lower the cost to free for much news (with all the complications that involves), and allows aggregation and other facilitation.

And of all the news sources I've referred to (local, national, international, etc.), think of how incredibly long the list of owners is and how diverse it is.

Serious question - how many of those many news sources have you taken the time to trace their ownership or influencers?

As an example, you mentioned BuzzFeed - did you know that Comcast nee NBCUniversal invested roughly $400M into them[1] in the last couple years? Or that they were caught deleting posts[2] critical of their advertisers in 2015?

Did you know that Huffington Post, Engadget, and TechCrunch are all owned by Verizon[3]?

I'm not sure the proliferation of sources amounts to much, as many of those sources are hardly independent at the end of the day. What's your favorite flavor of tech news.. Verizon or Comcast?

I'm not being fatalistic here, I'm saying that most people don't bother to do this work, and so they aren't aware of how few owners actually exist in the journalism market. This is not a healthy state of affairs.

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BuzzFeed#Funding

[2]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BuzzFeed#Advertiser_influence_...

[3]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oath_Inc

That is very informative and helpful; thank you. I wasn't aware or didn't remember all that.

I still think there's more diversity now than before the Internet. There are several more publications in my locale, for example, and some are more focused on local public affairs than the leading local newspapers were (which I assume have to appeal to a wider audience). And there are the other sources I mentioned.

Do you know if it's objectively worse than before the Internet?

> Most news in the largest nations is in the hands of a handful of gargantuan monied interests

But they are also at odds with each other, and can gain advantage by exposing one another. Just like with politicians — a true democratic system is designed with crooks and liars in mind, and balances them one against the other.

> people are going to have to do what they should have been doing in the first place, namely choosing their news sources carefully and paying more attention to subtle and not-so-subtle bias. It's a huge mistake to rely on media credentials as a proxy for likelihood of telling the truth, yet that is the entire concept of journalism as a career path.

Media credentials are a way to aggregate that trust on the long run and invest decades into building a reputation of integrity. With the expectation that it will be profitable in the future, people will come to rely on you because they know how costly any damage to that reputation is to you.

In the model where every internet page is a source that has to vetted individually, the journalists are indeed obsolete but not because they weren't useful; now every citizen must do their own full journalistic investigations before trusting anything written. Most people lack the skills and education to do that work and society is, on the whole, worse off.

People will not be doing what "they should be doing in the first place", we will get the misinformation soup that served us with Trump, Brexit, antivaxx and the score of post-truth social ills.

The MMR scare, which is the origin of a lot of the modern antivax movement, was something that was largely created by (UK) newspapers[1]. This was back in the 90s before the subsequent decline in revenue from advertising and competition from online news; it wasn't something that happened due to lack of resources to do fact checking- papers took an active decision to 'campaign' in support of Wakefield and dedicated huge amounts of resources and column inches to the topic. It wan't just a tabloid thing either, most of the media gorged themselves on a festival of misinformation and emotive scare stories for years after the original article had been retracted by most of the authors.

You really couldn't have picked a worse example.

Brexit is a more complicated topic, but it's worth pointing out that it occurs after a decades long smear campaign by much of the UK media against the EU.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MMR_vaccine_controversy#Media_...

This sort of thing is why newspapers are going to die and good riddance.

Yes the MMR scare was bad reporting of bad science. But this:

Brexit is a more complicated topic, but it's worth pointing out that it occurs after a decades long smear campaign by much of the UK media against the EU.

... is just laughable. What you mean is that the UK media, rather unusually for Europe, actually digs up dirt and reports negative stories about the EU. You know, holding government to account, one of the primary functions of journalism.

I've noticed lots of people in the rest of Europe like to describe the UK media this way. I find it rather pathetic. Even the head of the EU Parliament after the Brexit vote explained it by saying the people had been "brainwashed" by the media.

The only reason it feels to them like the UK press runs a smear campaign against the EU, is that supine and useless European newspapers are all ideologically in bed with it and refuse to publish negative stories at all. I read the German press sometimes and any article that at first may appear to be criticising the EU invariably is actually criticising national governments, often with an explicit or implied appeal to the EU to bring the elected governments into line. EU supporters have got used to dog-like loyalty from the press and act shocked when they read genuine, hard hitting criticism in British newspapers.

No, the UK press is disastrously bad about reporting the EU, to the extent that the EU has its own huge rebuttals index: https://blogs.ec.europa.eu/ECintheUK/euromyths-a-z-index/

The rightwing UK press is extremely selective about what negative news it reports about whom. It could and should be savaging the UK government for its lack of Brexit planning but instead it's running articles labelling judges as "TRAITORS".

I'm aware of the EU's "myths" index. It's a joke. Most of them aren't even rebuttals because they admit the stories are true. They're just blog posts defending their own position.

Just scanning down the list for some recent examples, here's one from 2015:


It says:

In a drive to have a go at the EU, on 20 July some UK newspapers (Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail) chose to ridicule circus artists and coconut production

It then goes on to admit that the EU does fund trapeze and sewing courses in Tanzania, but "elaborate metaphors and frivolous choice of visuals aside, mastering – to quote the articles – “the art of the trapeze” can open job opportunities for a person in Tanzania (by the way, the same project also provides courses in carpentry and sewing)."

So this "myth" is in reality not a myth at all, the reports were true. The Commission also managed to totally miss the point of the stories, namely, why is the EU spending money on trapeze courses in Tanzania during a time when its member governments are cutting back on healthcare and welfare to their own people? Instead it posts a pretentious blog post in which it redefines facts as "myths" and shits on journalists doing one of the things journalists are meant to do: asking hard questions about government spending.

Here's another true "myth"


"It appears the press are just as keen on recycling as the Commission. The claim that British taxpayers are subsidising bullfighting in Spain was published in The Daily Mail and Daily Mirror recently, some 18 months after a strangely similar story appeared in The Daily Telegraph in May 2013."

But indeed, the claim the papers made is once again completely true and the EU doesn't deny it. Instead it simply claims that under the EU's own agriculture subsidy rules they don't specify what the subsidies are used for, and so if Spanish farmers choose to use the subsidies to rear bulls for bullfighting that's got nothing to do with them. Except that, you know, they pay for it.

If the EU wants to tackle bad reporting about its own operations in the press, then it needs to stick to cases where the press were actually wrong. It surely does happen. Instead it published a blog that boils down to a big pile of tetchyness, evasion, and slippery use of language - all paid for by the taxpayer. You get the overwhelming impression the EU really doesn't get that an aggressive press is a part of democracy; they see it as an opponent to be defeated.

Also, people actually had reasons for voting for Trump that were not related to the content of fake Facebook posts.

Hey, being an expert on and doing everything yourself is good enough for healthcare, retirement, charitable giving, etc. This is just the American way. Why conquer together when I can do it myself! (poorly)

It's a great way to weed out the economically disadvantaged who can't afford to do educate themselves.

>People will not be doing what "they should be doing in the first place", we will get the misinformation soup that served us with Trump, Brexit, antivaxx and the score of post-truth social ills.

This is why Trump won.

Yes, people like to believe the lies of Trump, Brexit, and antivaxxers, and that led to Trump winning. So how do we convince them not to choose comforting lies?

Trust isnt the only point though. The threat of a decline is full time journalists means also some things will fall through the cracks because no one invests the time to look at it.

A good example might be the Snowden documents. They were quite numerous and multiple news agencies put a lot of manpower into actually looking through them.

Wasn't most actual past real world journalism opinionated one? There was never period when it was objective in a sense of "fully factual, does not cherry pick, does not ignore point and arguments that don't fit journal worldview". It is likely not even possible.

Most newspapers are filled with regurgitated press releases. When I noticed this, I stopped my subs. I grew up reading newspapers that had investigative journalists out in the field. Gov't was much more accountable.

Both current newspapers and online blogging profitability stem from advertising. I think the current situation is a conflated hybrid of both. Here's a previous rant:

"We live in an age where blogging careers required tricking Google algorithms to thinking your site was valuable in order to increase traffic and thus serve ads to consumers (or grab their email for later product blasts, for example signing up for a free ebook on passive income). This trend spiraled into "spinning articles" which essentially was a method of using software to change articles via word/sentence substitution. The spun articles would then be posted to similar websites that then linked back to one of your main sites. All of them nicely littered with ads of course and leading you in a research circle. This of course evolved into clickbait headlines. Buzzfeed and its ilk are born to maximize this growing pile of garbage echoing, and labels itself as a brilliant strategy which is then echoed out again. Release a few high quality long form articles every once in a while, call yourself journalism instead of blogging (difference being the above strategies and highly opinionated pieces), badda-bing-badda-boom, media is changed. Now instead of reporting on a subject, we regurgitate something else for a few sentences and post the source and call it a day. No understanding, investigation, expansion, or reworking required because the author is no longer writing for an audience but instead for an advertiser click minimum." [0]

I think the fact that newspapers, blogs, whatever else aren't writing for an audience any more is huge. The idea being that the writer is most likely trying to fill some quota in order to make a buck. I'm not saying that writers are only loyal to their bottom line but they're incentivized to produce much more garbage.

[0] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17049804

> Most newspapers are filled with regurgitated press releases. When I noticed this, I stopped my subs. I grew up reading newspapers that had investigative journalists out in the field. Gov't was much more accountable.

That's a strategy that will get you more regurgitated press releases.

I still subscribe to a newspaper, but at this point I think of it like a donation to a nonprofit. Journalism is important, and I think the people who value it need to concentrate their resources to maintain and support the organizations who will still do it.

However, now I'm going to have to make sure my money's not going to a private equity vulture like this guy.

You can give money directly to actual non-profit organizations that engage in investigative journalism, like the Center for Investigative Reporting or ProPublica.

Don't those nonprofits tend to focus on national issues? State and local issues still need investigation.

very true.

It is tied to the invasion of privacy.

Facebook and Google control close to 85% of the digital ad market. The rest 15% goes to the content creators and to the journalism. If Google and FB were not able to invade everyone's privacy, that would have created a level playing field for national, regional, and specialized media to prosper. But because they know who you are, they can display an ad for you on any platform. If you are from Denver, here's an ad for a Denver event on your mobile game. So who needs journalism if an article in Denver Post is on par to a Candy Crush screen? Who needs quality content on the internet?

There is a reason why there is no VC investment in the content whatsoever!

Neither Google nor FB should be gathering personal information worse than NSA. Personal information is personal, and free people in a free society should not be followed by multinational corporations.

The opposite is true: Less personalized ads -> Lower revenue per user -> An even smaller budget for journalism.

There are indeed ethical concerns with this level of tracking. That doesn't change that there's a flipside though. A lot of good journalism will have no monetization model to rely on. Paid content only works for the top publications that aim at a wealthier audience.

> The opposite is true: Less personalized ads -> Lower revenue per user -> An even smaller budget for journalism.

I think he's got a point but isn't articulating it very well.

Suppose we didn't have any individualized user data but we still knew that people who read articles on medicine are more likely to be doctors and people who read articles on court decisions are more likely to be lawyers etc.

Then specialty publications would have an advantage. If an advertiser wants to reach doctors they have to go to a publication that mostly doctors read or else most of their ad spend is wasted. That allows the specialty publication to charge higher rates, because they have fewer competitors for that viewership market.

Once you have individualized user data, the advertiser can go to a populist media outlet and buy just the subset of users they want. They don't have to go to a specialist media outlet anymore so the specialist media outlets lose advertisers to the populist ones.

Meanwhile it's not actually that expensive to generate horoscopes and celebrity gossip, so there is vigorous competition driving down margins there and the increased ad revenue goes primarily to the tracking companies rather than the content producers.

It's more profitable for a content producer to get 100% of the advertiser's money than to get 15% of it even though the advertiser is spending twice as much in total, with the rest going to tracking companies and fake news outlets.

There is a reason why there is no VC investment in the content whatsoever. I maintain a website since 2004 for doctors to learn about medical technologies, i.e. new FDA approvals, interviews, product reviews, etc etc, like TechCrunch for doctors. Fourteen years of every day reporting! We should be able to sustain ourselves via ads, but we barely survive. Why? Because of the invasion of privacy, because Google follows users, and it can display ads for doctors on Candy Crush. So who needs journalism? Google doesn't.

You should get higher cpms (more revenue) because doctors/nurses read your site - something that wouldn't necessarily occur without the invasion of privacy.

If there wasn't an invasion of privacy, there would be no open marketplace for buying ads, and small websites would have an incredibly difficult time filling ad slots.

But before the algorithm personalized ads journalism wasn’t “dying”, there is ways to do personalized ads without tracking my every move.

> The opposite is true: Less personalized ads -> Lower revenue per user -> An even smaller budget for journalism.

I read an article recently that made a good point: personalized ads aren't advertising; it's really direct marketing, just like junk mail, spam, and telemarketing.

"Personalized advertisers" are also very mercenary, and no quality publication can rely on revenue from them. They'll use your content to profile your audience, then abandon you and target them on cheaper websites your users also frequent.

Edit: here's the article: http://blogs.harvard.edu/doc/2018/05/12/gdpr/

The journalists and editors have their own agenda. They used to manipulate the public so easily. Today news is democratized. Everyone publishes news, google, FB, twitter are just platforms. They don't discriminate against anyone.

Do you really believe this or are you just casually throwing it out there to see the response? Google, fb, et al most certainly do manipulate and discriminate against everyone. By design they give you the information you already know, believe and want because this increases engagement and usage. They're not giving you "news" as by definition journalism is intended to be balanced and unbiased. The existing platforms don't want to give you a wide cross section where everyone will disagree with certain components; that would be bad for business.

If you're worried about this (good for you!), broaden your "platform". Don't rely on G and FB to tell you what they aren't telling you. It's somewhere on the web, though.

Another related piece that can't be recommended enough is, "The Bad News About the News" by Robert Kaiser. Kaiser was the managing editor of the Washington Post pre-Bezos and spent more than 50 years at the paper working as both a reporter and an editor. That time frame gives him an incredibly insightful view on the decline of media and where it is inevitably headed.

[1] - http://csweb.brookings.edu/content/research/essays/2014/bad-...

>“The old model of a general-purpose newspaper fit the industrial age when advertisers needed mass audiences to sell the products of mass production. But the marketplace no longer supports the model of a few messages to many people. Now it is many messages, each to a few people,” Meyer tells me via email.

The advertising as spying model is dying, too. The EU GDPR killed it in the second largest market on the planet. It is a matter of political opportunity for the same to happen in the US.

What we are seeing is the limit of advertising as a business model in general.

I wonder if the likes of nextdoor can take on journalism. They have a captive audience with pretty good engamemt, maybe they could add local news through local journalists, but who knows...

Nextdoor is awful. The only thing it's good for is learning just how many of your neighbors will report "suspicious activity" when they see a black man walking his dog. If that's the future of journalism, just let it die.

From what I’ve seen they have helped catch delivery thieves, prowlers; alerts about lost and found, free stuff, car break-in’s miscellaneous activities, both positive and negative.

I think they could try adding local news into their feed.

I’ve learned having an externally pointing sec cam is valuable in capturing suspicious chars.

If it's at all profitable to produce a newspaper with more than the bare minimum writers, wouldn't a new paper start up after the last local one dies? What am I missing?

It's profitable while there's a customer base that still (due to tradition, habit, brand name) are willing to pay for an increasingly bad service. The last paper dies when it has "spent" that customer base by motivating them to change these habits, and at that point it won't be profitable for anyone ever again.

The private equity guy is making all the money but he is not killing the industry. The industry is dying because people don’t pay for ad-laden newspapers that they leaf through carefully every morning. 184 journalists at the Denver Post?! That needs more revenue than banner ads from Facebook clicks.

Interesting timing; this was published day before Salt Lake Tribune (Utah) laid off one-third the staff.

The problem is not saving the publishers and aggregators (aka. newspapers, magazines, etc) but reinventing journalism. All major publications, including the big ones, have been squeezing on journalistic quality.

There's a surplus of journalists that are either unemployed or peddling their services writing freelance articles where they are payed by the word. That's not sustainable in its current form but it might be the beginnings of something new: offering these people a way to get revenue.

This business is essentially reputation driven; good journalists get payed more and have an easier time getting their work published. Right now they do this at fixed price by selling themselves to media syndicates that are taking most of the profits for themselves. There seems to be no way other than monetizing through largely ad driven media silos. This is a race to the bottom. You get shit articles that offer confirmation bias to pre-selected demographics based on what ads they can publish.

I'd gladly pay up for a netflix/spotify style news subscription model with a fair distribution model. This would enable niche publications and journalists to do their thing in the same way that niche artists and series are thriving on spotify and netflix. But it would have to be an inclusive platform; I'm not paying for a handful of big brand publications with some filler content that I can get elsewhere for free. I want basically a good subset of all relevant publications in the same way that most artists are on Spotify. I don't want to have to micromanage subscriptions either. Just measure what I read, and how long I read it, etc. and make sure the relevant copyright owners get their cut. I want good journalists to get a fair cut of the earnings.

That's money the journalists are missing out on. I've not bought a news paper in years, I have no online news subscriptions and never payed for paper subscriptions. I also have an ad-blocker and routinely bypass naively implemented paywalls with private browsers. That's billions of completely untapped revenue potentially and none of it ad based. Enough to pay for the work of tens of thousands of journalists. At 5$/month, 20 million subscribers is about 1 billion in revenue, which at a generous 100K per year could pay for 10K journalists. I'd say a good enough platform can easily do better than that in just the US alone.

10k journalists and your most popular articles are going to be about the Kardashians, what celebrities wore to an awards show and what celebrity couple is splitting up. Maybe Lebron pokes in to the top 10.

Journalism is like science, an entire career might have a few interesting publications if you’re lucky, something really big is like winning the lottery. Current society isn’t designed to appreciate that kind of hit ratio. There is all sorts of low grade grift and corruption in business and politics but there aren’t enough big scandals to keep the kardashians out of our papers.

That's the case right now; except I don't read any of that. To get my money, journalists would have to up their game. And mind you, I pay 0$ right now.

So changing that changes the incentives. If people still mostly want the stuff they are being fed right now AND are happy paying for that, well ... who are we to complain.

David Simon's 2008 UC Beerkeley address, "The Audacity of Despair", addresses the decline of print media beginning in the 1990s.


Just as importantly, whoever sold the paper to Smith is guilty of the exact same thing he is. They're both trying to make as much money as possible off a dying business. And, to be honest, how much can you blame either?

This is going to be an unpopular opinion here, but does a local Denver paper really need almost 200 journalists working for it? Reading the average mid-sized city paper, I'd assume they have about 40-50 reporters.

Considering that I'd never heard anything about the Denver Post prior to all this discussion about it being harvested by "vulture capitalists", they don't seem to be doing anything exceptional. If it really takes 184 journalists to produce a daily newspaper of middling quality, is print journalism worth saving?

They've won and been nominated for multiple Pulitzer prizes, they aren't exactly middling quality. That's extremely unfair to label them as such.


Of those 9 prizes only two are related to actually reporting news. The rest are for cartoons or photography. The world is full of people giving away photos for free, and as for "editorial cartooning", well ... the world is also full of people being funny for free.

Of the two prizes for news reporting both were for mass shootings that happened to take place locally. I am skeptical these prizes were awarded based on some objective evaluation of their reporting skill; the Pulitzer is probably just awarded on the basis of emotions. Like so much else in journalism, there are no systems worth a damn.

> Considering that I'd never heard anything about the Denver Post prior to all this discussion about it being harvested by "vulture capitalists", they don't seem to be doing anything exceptional. ... middling quality ...

Ugh. I dont know about it therefore it is bad?

The many aspects of newspaper readership decline are very neatly summarised on Wikipedia:


I grew up delivering newspapers door to door first thing in the morning with yet more newspaper delivering in the afternoon, after school, this one being the local paper. I got to be very good at reading all of them and I was a believer in the product. My papers of choice were the Financial Times and The Guardian. I started out reading the smaller articles at the foot of the page and progressed to reading the big articles at the top of the page.

Sometimes a 'child mind' is quite helpful for being objective and seeing things as they are. I was truly shocked at how low the reading age was for the tabloid papers - up to and including the Daily Mail. I also found The Times to be 'faking it', i.e. using big words for the sake of it rather than to convey meaning. I found The Telegraph to be legit but with Tory viewpoint which was fine, you didn't have to read the editorial, if you wanted crime stories they were all there on page 3, the international news was there and the sport, e.g. cricket was pretty good too.

There were some howevers, for instance I was quite a fan of F1 at the time so after a race I was reading the reports in all of the papers, I can even remember the writer names. I didn't want to know about just the winners on the podium, the fortunes of the back of the grid guys interested me too, yet the only way I could get a bit of an idea of how they fared was to read all the papers. I still found this lacking.

Nowadays if I need to know that level of information I can get so much more and for free, reading blogs and whatnot as well as the BBC overview. There is no way I would consider reading what the newspapers have to say about F1 even if I had access to every newspaper for free, even if online rather than in dead tree format.

There was another 'however' - as a child delivering papers I did not think outside of the frame set by the newspapers, so if there was a story on how the British bid to sell tanks to Saudi Arabia hadn't happened then I would 'believe' that this was bad for jobs and the balance of payments - as if that mattered. I was not able to think that 'we' (as in the Royal 'we') should not be selling tanks to the Saudis. The Guardian (never mind the Daily Mail) didn't let my mind stray as far as questioning whether selling these tanks was ethical or outside of the founding charter of the United Nations. I was not given the words to think that.

Back then the wars that happened seemed pretty legit. Even the Falklands seemed 'fair'. The war in Afghanistan and the Olympic boycotts that followed all seemed okay.

If we had the internet then then I might have been able to find out that the Afghanistan war was instigated by America, funding the terrorists and bringing down a democratically elected government. Much like the F1 situation, the information was just not obtainable, even if you went out to seek it.

My grandmother did say that you should not believe what they write in the papers, but the other out there stuff was not there so the default was to believe what the papers said.

Nowadays, post Iraq, post the Syria fake chemical attacks and with so many other obvious lies told how is anyone expected to believe the truthiness of the papers? So as well as the many reasons for newspaper decline given in the Wikipedia article is a fundamental problem that means no mainstream newspapers have a core readership of 'fans' - truth. It is just absent from the mainstream news. We as a society are no longer on the same page when it comes to facts.

Online blogs do have the '1000 core fans' needed to give them life, the mainstream news does not have that. In the UK the printed newspapers are only read by two groups of people - commuters in tube trains with no WiFi and the old baby boomer generation.

I learned how the 'old baby boomer generation' read their papers back in the day of delivering them. They read these things much like how one might eat lots of 'fiber' in one's diet, because it is allegedly good for you. There would be sugar coating in the Sunday magazine supplements, so people would actually be 'licking off the sugar coating' and reading the lifestyle or sport articles rather than the 'news'. So they weren't really reading papers for reasons beyond entertainment. This goes on today, it is the same ritual, something to fill your lazy Sunday afternoon doing. So nobody is reading these papers and even if they are then their thoughts and opinion on current affairs matter not. They have been sheeple-ified into believing the five minutes of hate with no ability to think outside the frame.

A lot of 'young people' who don't touch newspapers with a bargepole are not illiterate oafs, chances are they have cut the cord with TV and really do not want to be told what to think anymore. Sadly they get drawn in to fake news and conspiracy stories thanks to Facebook and what the likes of Cambridge Analytica do. So we still have not escaped 'the frame'. We have escaped it enough though for dead-tree newspapers to be as good as dead.

> By raising prices and lowering quality, a stagnant business can rely on its most loyal customers to continue to buy the product, allowing it to squeeze and squeeze and squeeze its customers as they croak. This slow liquidation of an asset’s value, destroying even its reputation in the process, kills the product. Wherever newspapers can be found reducing page size, cutting news pages, narrowing coverage area, reducing staff, shrinking circulation area, postponing the purchase of new equipment and raising subscription prices, they are harvesting market position.

Attention anyone sill subscribed to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the San Jose Mercury News and the Orange County Register: it's time to quit.

If those papers have any local competitors left, they should get the money instead.

> By raising prices and lowering quality, a stagnant business can rely on its most loyal customers to continue to buy the product, allowing it to squeeze and squeeze and squeeze its customers as they croak. This slow liquidation of an asset’s value, destroying even its reputation in the process, kills the product

I can't help but feel a tiny analogy to Apple with this statement.

Actually, this makes me think of the giant software corporation CA.

Larry Ellison of Oracle referred to CA as "where software goes to die" because of this business practice. When Oracle says that, you know it's bad.

Every time I'm at some company where an entrenched piece of software that has a declining user base (Erwin data modeling software, Rally for Agile, etc) I discover that CA has bought it, put it on life support, and let it just slowly rot.

It is also an analogy for Apple in 1995. Companies harvest their market position sometimes, and then innovate at other times.

I think this is a standard technique for fast-food businesses, although I've never heard it mentioned. Run some flashy ad campaign for low-priced good food for a few months. Leave the low prices in place for about a year. Then slowly, slowly ratchet up your prices. After 8-10 years of this, your only remaining customers have very little price sensitivity, but at some point along the way you soaked every single customer as hard as you could. If you need to raise revenue now that you've chased away lots of customers, start over from the beginning.

I guess someone at Arby's didn't get the "start over" memo...

If you read this article you'll also get to learn how journalism dies - through opinion pieces promoted as objective reporting.

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