To: Brian
From: Owen
Re: Newspapers, Yes, They're Dying

Since you brought it up and we worked there โ€” and this Friday, as the last one of the month, could very well see the last edition of the Rocky Mountain News โ€” I figured I'd say my piece about it and the business here.

The demise of daily print journalism was set in motion years ago. I'm more inclined to look upon this as the death of a loved one after a long goodbye. I feel keenly the distress of the News' editorial staff; I'm out of work, and few have harsher words for ownership and executives when their lack of vision, their quarter-to-quarter myopia or their fear cost working people their jobs. Over the News' decline you've seen all three in play. But I wish journalists would face up to the fact that the newspaper industry in its present form is not sustainable, and quit writing so many hand-wringing odes to it, which seem only to chastise an already disaffected readership that views journalism's public service as more message than mission.

This idea of its indispensable position in public life has always been laid as newspapers' argumentative trump card. Newspaper owners played it with Congress in 1970 and got the antitrust exemption that propped up failing papers in the most competitive markets and reaped them the profits of a virtual monopoly โ€” the very arrangement the Rocky Mountain News began, literally, on my first day wearing a tie in its newsroom. For years, ad managers pitched that same unique position to their clients โ€” maybe indirectly, but the value proposition was in some form based on the integrity and the service that separated us from the pennysaver, which couldn't hold a dogcatcher accountable, much less make a president resign in disgrace.

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Now, the writers and the photographers and the line editors are the only ones left to make the pitch. Instead, they're lecturing a constituency whose maximum possible contribution would be a daily 50 cent purchase. It's like trying to get to the moon with a bake sale. Let's face reality. The advertisers have given up. The owners have sold you out. The government is broke. I know journalism has graduate schools of professional practice, like law and business. I went to one. But that doesn't make you their peer. You're still their dependent, and you always were.

Here's some headlines from the weekend:

Now You Can Be Certain You've Bought a Jasper
Labor Dept. Says Utah Dev Owes Workers $2 Million
Knicks Player's Salute Proves He's CoD:WaW Gamer?
No Love Among the Ruins of Circuit City
Fallout 3's Four New Achievements
L4D Mod Puts More Survival Into Horror

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