If the Daily News dies, so does Young Philly Politics

So, as Philly Newspapers Inc LLC (PNL) careens through the long road of bankruptcy court, the talk has restarted that the way forward is closing the Daily News. Great.

As I say at every forum I am asked to speak at, when the question about 'new media' comes up: We are 100 percent dependent on a vibrant local media. Period.

At heart, YPP is basically a volunteer operation that I keep going because 1)I enjoy it and 2)I think it serves some sort of unquantifiable need and 3) once in a while we do a little good. There is no way that we will ever, ever, ever be able to survive without good local reporting. And, while the Inquirer has a solid City Hall Bureau, without the Daily News, we instantly lose a huge chunk of focus on our City. There is no way that something like YPP will replace it. None.

I know there are problems with the way newspapers operate, and with how certain stories are run, and with the constant focus on crime above almost everything. But, if we lose the Daily News, and we no longer have Bob Warner, Dave Davies, Catherine Lucey, Chris Brennan, and company writing about the City, things we should know about will simply go unreported. Instead, life will be spent trying to decipher a bunch of press releases. And it will matter a whole lot less that City Council may be violating the Sunshine Act, because there is a good chance no one will be around in the first place to report on it.

If the Daily News dies, so do we. Not right away, maybe not even for a while. But there is just no way that we can function in the long run, and have content every day, without the Daily News existing.

Local reporting is all I turn to local papers for

Everything else can be gotten somewhere else at least sort of, ultimately. But well researched, quality local reporting on local government and politics is an irreplaceable asset for having a genuine civic discourse. And right now, it only comes from newspapers, specifically newspapers staffed with professionals who follow stories day in, day out.
MrLuigi, my cat, actually only types half as badly as I do.

if you had to shut one...

shut the inquirer, which is a shell of a paper.

I'd read the metro before i read the inquirer. I am SO not kidding.

The Daily News is clearly the superior paper.

Well the DN got trimmed down a long time ago

but I suspect that you like me most appreciate the local coverage, the whole "People Paper" mission a lot more. So they basically stuck to only really doing sports and the local stuff you and I really love better than the Inky does. The other stuff the Inky does, sometimes is better done by the NYT or Washington Post anyway. Local business might be an exception.

I think they could really botch this because the local stuff is what makes a local paper relevant.
-Sean
MrLuigi, my cat, actually only types half as badly as I do.

Local News is Essential

I don't get why the old newspaper outfits are so wedded to the idea they need overseas and national bureaus when it hurts their business model. I've been following the sad saga of the LA Times, which stints local coverage, and is bleeding out quickly.

The DN gives me more and varied local news than the Inky overall and in less space.

Joshua Vincent
www.urbantools.org
www.ourcommonwealth.org
Phree Philly

Well put, Dan

Ben Franklin would be pissed if he knew local politics and government might go unreported in his hometown Philly press.

The freaking Founding Fathers figured out the critical role the press plays in the everyday practice of democracy RIGHT HERE in Philly; they recorded it in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights, RIGHT HERE in Philly; and now we're looking at a possible failure to report, truly a failure of democracy, all because the faulty owners of the major papers are too tied to the real estate market and borrowed too much when they bought both.

Talk about the suburbs biting the city in the Philadelphia region once again. The suburbs-favoring owners seems treat the DN as the You People Paper, and do not seem to understand the critical role it plays in Philadelphia politics.

I have to go teach, but I'll end with a thought I've been thinking about putting into a longer post:

I believe in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area, a local philanthropic trust stepped up when the local paper was endangered and bought it and became the truly silent owners of a very above-average local news resource.

I wonder if Pew or somebody like Pew could do something similar?

It's not enough to worry, we have to act

I wrote about this a few weeks ago. Its not just the Philadelphia papers, it newspapers across America. Denver Co lost a paper today; Minneapolis and Seattle are losing papers as well.

To paraphrase Churchill, “main stream newspapers are the worse way to get our news until we consider the alternatives. And unless those of us who know how vital newspapers are to our democracy and our way of life act, we will suffer the consequences.”

I believe we should demand that TARP money be made available to newspapers. Certainly it is as important to save newspapers as it is to save banks and the auto industry. Democracy can continue without citi bank, but can it exist without newspapers?

The government already gives special treatment to educational institutions, even ones that have very pointed agendas, (eg Jerry Fallow’s university, Oral Roberts University, and Yale University), why not news papers that inform citizens?

I have written to Congressman Fattah and spoken with Congressman Brady’s office asking that they lead the fight to keep America’s newspaper vibrant. Let newspapers use TARP loans.

Won’t you help ensure an educated electorate?

Lance Haver

Well put, Lance

Democracy can continue without citi bank, but can it exist without newspapers?

No, it can't. At least it can't without getting far weaker, far worse, and far less democratic.

Think about it: Philadelphia city government has this ridiculous freakshow history of corruption that leads right up to the present day; I'm not talking about the Nutter administration, which I think has been a step in the right direction on that issue, but I'm talking about ugly and costly patronage and undemocratic practices that still go on in far too many offices that we Philadelphians pay for, and that happens among too many elected officials at the committee and ward level and above.

There's already too much for the Daily News to cover and reveal as it is, but imagine if all of those eyes peering into city government, and all those voices speaking out about waste, injustice, and neglect go away.

How much more wasteful, unjust, and neglectful we will become?

How much more can we stand and still exist as a city?

You're right Lance, bailing out big news organizations must be understood by our Washington representatives as necessary for preserving American democracy.

It's akin to the automobile industry, I think. Robert Reich argues that we need to bail out the automobile industry because we know that in the future we will need cars, and we also know in the future and the present we need jobs. If we have a domestic auto industry, as do major economies that we compete with, we'll have a source of cars and jobs in the future. That allows our economy to go forward. Yes, the industry needs to retool and remodel itself (and sure we should be angry at their past short-sightedness and stupidity) but it behooves us as a country to help them stay around, and in some cases, force them to change practices and leadership so they can exist in the future. Again, that allows our economy to go forward.

Similarly, we need major, independent local news organizations and publications like the Daily News to function so our democracy can go forward. Yes, we can and should be angry at speculator/owners who bought newspapers that they couldn't afford. From what I've read, it isn't that incredibly difficult to run a newspaper as a sort of break-even operation, or even to turn a small profit. But when new owners borrow hundreds of millions of dollars to buy newspapers, they need those papers to turn large enough profits so that they can pay off their debt, and newspapers aren't good at that. They almost never have been. That's why rich families interested in local community, or philanthropic organizations, make good newspaper owners, and not so much folks who have to borrow as much as the Tierney/Toll team did.

But we know we need news organizations for democracy to flourish, so we know we need the Daily News in order for local government to get better and flourish, just as we need the auto industry in order for the national economy to flourish.

I'd love to see the government actively helping local news organizations retool and remodel (maybe that means new more realistic owners and operators) so that they can exist in the future.

I agree also that it's time we wake up and give the news organizations we need as a society the same tax breaks we give the institutions of higher learning we need as a society.

Dan and Lance are right. Everyone in the YPP community should be united and act to save the Daily News.

Agreed - But what can we do?

In my younger years, I learned the value of work hauling the Daily News around the neighborhood. I think there are a lot of adults like me out there who would like to work on trying to keep the paper around. I live in a zipcode in this city where we always seem to be trying to save something (Perhaps this is really a hint at something bigger) and I can't say that this hasn't frustrated me over the last few months.
However, if there is something to be done, YPP seems like the place to start it.

Tell local legislators to step in

I'm not in the habit of saying anything that might help a Republican, but if I were Arlen Specter, I'd look at this as a golden opportunity to step in and win the hearts of people in the #1 area I need to stay in office.

I hope Allyson Schwartz, Patrick Murphy, Josh Shapiro, and any other smart Democratic opponent beats him to the punch and finds a way to save the Daily News; but we can afford to be non-partisan in a matter as important as this.

Someone in government, particularly at the federal level, should step in with a proposal to save the Daily News.

Lance has written to Fattah and Brady.

Let's write to them and maybe to Specter and Bob Casey too.

Petition anyone?

we need the Daily News

But the idea of a newspaper being owned or financed by the folks it's supposed to cover should be repellent to us all. It opens the door to all sorts of nasty conflicts and opportunities.

I believe that the Philly.com Sports coverage is unique enough that folks would pay if the articles were placed behind a wall. Let's start there.

I'm not suggesting having the state buy the DN

but I am suggesting they find a way or help find a way to keep it running.

Young Philly Politics would flourish without DN

I am a little surprised at the tone of the posts here. First, let's all agree that the Inky is not worth wrapping fish in. The New York Times does a much better job at reporting virtually every bit of news that the Inky does with the exception of local news -- the DN does that -- and local business -- there are a variety of outlets for that.

So the Inky could go away with little loss of content to the marketplace of ideas.

As for the DN, let's parse out its excellent sports coverage. Although there are many, many other venues for covering local teams, they do it better than anyone, and the coverage is a good reason not to boycott the paper. But you can get good sports coverage from so many sources that it really is just reading the insights of the authors. The Internet and local radio have really got that covered.

Then the front of the paper -- I always start with the back -- has local news and coverage. But a lot of the local news -- in terms of just letting you know who got killed where -- has already been covered by the tv stations by the time the DN hits the stands. (Although the local media does no in depth coverage of anything, so you may not have a clue as to why the person got killed. Also it is heavily slanted towards the Burbs.)

So the main reason that is articulated here is that there needs to be in-depth coverage on local political events because of the ingrained corruption of local politicians. Let's stipulate that there is a culture of complete indifference to the incompetence or corruption of the local political structure. What has the DN done to out that culture?

Not much. Sure it does a lot to let people know about the culture. But in recent years, with staffing cuts, and the promotion of pointless reporters reporting pointless things, there has not been any in-depth stories about the political culture.

But more importantly, the writers at the DN get spun so often that they miss the story on a fairly regular basis. Fumo owned them. (Losing that lawsuit may have something to do with it.)

Seriously, over the years that I have posted on this blog, I have continuously noted that Fumo had an amazing ability to spin virtually any story. As a result, the coverage was fawning (there is a more vulgar sexual term used to describe overly nice coverage that I often heard in response to Fumo's coverage by the DN), and not game changing.

He shook down Verizon and Peco. Not the Democratic Party. Not some unions. Not some South Philly Ward leaders. Two large national utilities. That should be enough to warrant a campaign like the one against the Wage Tax. Did it? Nope.

There are many, many more stories like this. But did they appear in the DN. Nope. But Tuma's spin did. Or the background "context" provided by his hacks and flack always did. And why? Because many reporters are lazy and improperly incentivized. No leaving the news desk. No getting off the second and fourth floors of City Hall. And the editors didn't provide pages (or even inches) of newsprint for those in depth stories. Everything boiled down to soundbites that are more appropriate for WWE plot lines. Fumo power broker. Kenney field general. Doc is looming. Street's North Philly wards may carry day. Is Verna starting her own camp? Is Tasco the heir of Bill Gray's Northwest Machine? Will Dwight win against Tasco? Is Brady his own man? Blackwell versus Fattah. Fattah versus Tasco.

Very little discussion of the policy that these fights would create. (In fairness these fights were not really policy driven either. Not fought with competing position papers.)

But because of the ability to spin the real story out of the story, it means that the stories that the DN focuses on are personality plays, and not in depth personality plays at that.

This blog more consistently provides in depth analysis than the DN does.

As to the fact that this blog, and others, rely on the stories that the DN writes, there is no doubt that no other vehicle provides commentary on local political events -- imagine Jimmy Tayoun's Public Record being the recorder of Political History. Scary. But there is an interest in the crazy going's on of Philly politics that could easily be covered by one or two intrepid bloggers. And perhaps more in depth.

The City Paper has done more in-depth stories on political matters than the DN has, under some time frames. That's because they will take the time to do long stories without concern for page length, seemingly.

So the DN's demise, to me, is a self inflicted wound. Not self inflicted in the sense of having Tierney buy it with way too much debt for its cash flow, but self inflicted in the sense of forgetting that it should be accountable to its readers.

And the DN's reporters have themselves become personalities. To the point that there is this merger of the identity of the paper and the news they report. Which is not altogether bad. But what is bad is when the reporters don't pay attention to competition or conflicts of journalistic interest. For example, taking a point on the story is ok, if you have fully investigated both sides. But many reporters have the story in mind, and then search for quotes. And where did they get the story, some hack or flack gave them some dirt that they have dutifully published as a negative press release with accompanying quotes.

These conflicts undermine the confidence of the paper, Dan Gross's failure to report (or someone else to report) how he was involved in the story he was reporting about. Tsk. Tsk. Tsk. John Baer (whom I think is a great reporter) does not always point out his son's relationship to political parties in Harrisburg when he reports. (That's pretty well known, so I don't mean it as a swipe. But people do point it out.) Stu Bykofsky (I realize not an investigative reporter), running for Council, or his wife, or both, etc.

All that said, people are not willing to pay for content any more, unless it is very, very relevant. So the DN should try, instead of cutting content and reporters, to go the other way. Do micro reporting. Instead of focusing on the region, focus on the region's neighborhoods and components like a local weekly paper. People will read. But now, too much of what the DN publishes has either (1) already been noted on the news, (2) is superficial in nature, or (3) not gripping.

And in this free for all environment, that's not going to cut it. No tears for the DN. People deserve better.

Its not just the Daily News and Inky that are in trouble,

Its newspapers across America that are folding. Truthtold and others who don’t like some or even all of the coverage in the Daily News or Inquirer are missing the point.

I would not support helping the Daily News and/or Inquirer if the problem was theirs alone. The problem is the faltering economy and the Federal Government allowance of giant corporations to control access to the media.

To Truthtold and others who only look at the Daily News, I urge you to look at the bigger picture. If we find a way to support newspapers, there will be more competition and better papers. If we allow the industry to die, what is most likely to take its place?

As for those who fear government help for the newspapers, three things:

Government all ready is involved in the news media, we have shield laws, sunshine laws and first amendment protections, all created by the government to help newspapers.

The government supports collages and universities that are critical of government and no one thinks that because a college can get low cost financing that the political scientists department is corrupt.

Third, no one is suggesting the government own the newspaper, simply that the government recognize how important the newspaper industry is to our democracy and allow the newspaper industry access to low cost capital as if it was as important as the banking and auto industry for Americans.

Lance Haver

Doesn't Government Have more important priorities

The reason that the newspaper industry is failing is because of newspaper. First, the actual paper itself costs money -- think of subsidizing parchment writers. Parchment is hard to make, takes a long time to dry, requires a huge capital investment, is labor intensive, etc. Second, printing on paper costs an enormous amount of money. So you have to recoup those costs, which is why the need for charging for the paper. Bloggers, and other net based writers, don't have that extraordinary fixed cost. But because of the wealth of content out there, they too have a hard time charging for advertising dollars -- which because of our current recession are hard to come by.

Newspaper revenues have also been killed by one of their mainstays of advertising -- classified ads. With Craigslist, and others, why pay to put an ad in a local paper for a used car.

So, here's the new reality: lots of competition (so you are now constantly competing on price), low barriers to entry (no ability to raise prices) and a tradition of giving away for free what you charge for days later on paper (a model forcing you to give away for free what you pay for).

In this new economy, with car sales and department stores scrimping on ad sales, your largest customers of ad space are cutting back. And with more eyes looking at internet delivered content, you would have to charge less and less for ad space.

So you can't charge any money for the content, fewer people are paying for the ad space and it costs lots of money to produce.

So why should the government sink money into this venture -- which by putting up its credit for low interest loans it runs the risk of those loans not getting paid and thus would lose actual cash? Particularly given tight budget constraints and other competing priorities.

It shouldn't.

But even if for some reason it should, why should we subsidize particularly bad parchment writers -- given my prior analogy. Even if we as a society decide to throw our money away and subsidize an industry doomed for failure, why would we pick those who have not been good stewards of their own assets, i.e., owners of DN and Inky?

We shouldn't.

We don't subsidize horse buggies (we have cars), painters who try to replicate real life (we have cameras), etc. We should not throw money away on the papers.

Newspapers are needed, buggy whips are not, theyre different

Truthtold,

You raise the issue of buggy whips and painters saying we don’t need them any more and the government shouldn’t subsidize them.

It seems you either don’t understand the difference between government supporting something needed, like public transit and schools that don’t pay for themselves and supporting buggy whips which no one needs.

The only way your argument makes any sense is if you believe newspapers have no value to the public, society or democracy and/or it doesn’t matter if a service is in the public interest, unless it can be supported by a free market, it shouldn’t exist.

While I disagree with both arguments and believe government should subsidize public services, I would understand your point of view. But comparing daily newspapers with buggy whips is at best misguided and perhaps a little disingenuous.

Lance Haver

Buggy whips and Newspapers

I think the analogy is apt. Truthtold, told the truth about the mechanics of a business model that is objectively uncompetitive with what seems to be replacing it. If newspapers have value to society, society would pay for it.

I wrote a month ago about the passing of the town crier, and the broadside in favor newspapers. I jokingly cursed King George the 2nd for not subsidizing and 'saving' the town criers.
Newspaper as they are fit a particular time incredibly well; and those times have changed; progress if you will. We are now a post-literate society, atomized and no longer encouraged to strive for a greater awareness of the world around us (to improve ourselves); which is what what drove the bourgeoisie of the early 19th to mid-20th Century to consume the papers. Newspapers were then a perfect fit.

Whose public interest does a newspaper serve? It depends on the times. Newspapers, as a rule, stampeded this country into the Spanish Civil War, World War I and demonized the union movement for about a century. They were run often on the whim of one (rent Citizen Kane).

So, shall the government take over the news? If government has a hand in it; it will demand fairly) control. During times when it looks as if the progressives are in the ascendant, that'll appear to be swell. What happens when that changes?

Speech and expression are not public services or utilities or things, they are rights.

Joshua Vincent
www.urbantools.org
www.ourcommonwealth.org
Phree Philly

When you preach 19th century tax philosophy

you may want to practice a bit more restraint regarding tossing around "buggy whip" metaphors.

Sorry. It was just so too there to avoid.

I was again glad to be blogging standing up when I read that I was in a post-literate society, especially since I was using a medium, still on the ascendance, that so frequently and intrinsically requires and develops literacy.

Whew! No chair to fall out of!

Unfortunately, we're not completely in a post-short-sighted-90s-theory society.

Still, since I haven't heard anyone say “post-literate” since at least the beginning of the Iraq War, I’m hopeful.

Josh, just because news organizations that employ writers need to figure out how to make money from the internet, doesn’t mean

a) society doesn’t need professional writers investigating and reporting stories -- with the depth of a news article -- about the daily workings of local government, among other things

b) nobody reads such coverage

c) society no longer reads

d) we now exist exclusively in on-line tribes who receive news solely from trusted partisan but amateur websites or fill in your own popped hot air balloon theory circa 1996-2002

Nope.

Trends show people spending less time watching tv (though that’s still the most important medium for politics), more time online, thus yes reading MORE; imagine, it might even have helped elect a better president; but no, those trends logically do not suggest the development of a society where news organizations that employ writers to cover local news daily are either antiquated or unused.

Many just are not profitable at the moment because they’re still figuring out a medium that actually brings them many readers daily but doesn’t give them 75 cents from those daily readers.

Recorded music is going through the same online transition as a medium: more listeners, listening more frequently, fewer profits.

Doesn’t mean we don’t want or need music.

Similarly, while apocalyptic prognosticators have not lacked for visions of a “post-literate” society since at least the heyday of D.W. Griffith, democratic societies with middle classes still tend to want, and need, to read about their government and society in daily doses.

The market’s just not working for daily written news providers at the moment, despite having plenty of readers.

And only the most blinkered Ayn Randian (no longer including Alan Greenspan) can help notice in 2009 that the market alone does not deliver, at every moment, what’s good or necessary.

Governments – if you haven’t noticed recently – can help things they want or need, when the market fails.

Democratic government and middle class societies both want and need daily written local journalism, and they should help daily written local journalism translate sustainably online.

19th Centruy Tax Philosophies...

First,Sam, I promise to practice restraint, as I want to be everyone's pal; that is obviously the practice here. Everyone is nice, solicitous, and encouraging of the tea and tennis school of behavior. I surely don''t want to transgress the clear rules of engagement that perhaps some know and some do not. Is there a manual?

Second, I was supporting the "buggy whip" metaphor from another poster. What is a metaphor? "Metaphors are comparisons that show how two things that are not alike in most ways are similar in one important way. Metaphors are a way to describe something. Authors use them to make their writing more interesting or entertaining." I got that off the Internet; I had no book of definitions on paper handy. Is that a wrong definition?

My point, missed, is that technology changes the medium of the message. The message remains the same; we need to find an outlet that works for it. Expressed thought or analysis is forever. The mechanics of the vessel is not.

"Post-literate" is the problem that our educational system produces; that our short-selling of the poor produces, that our avalanche of advertising, marketing and selling produces.

I'd have thought participation on this site meant we understood some things. Sorry to have transgressed the boundaries. This is not something from a master's thesis. "Post-Literate" is what they have done to our society's children.

Now, on to your pointless, gratuitous and oh (!) so dreary insult.

19th Century taxes? Are these the same 19th Century Loony Toons ideas like abolition and suffrage? These taxes include the progressive income tax, the land value tax,the sales tax and the business tax. Which are useless? Which one of these taxes are we supposed to laugh at, Sam? Oh yes, the land value tax.

Dumb old Joshua, mea culpa, sorry; I have referenced, and backed with data the tax - LVT - that's not as edgy as you would appear to want. I just want to help the city; my bad. I SO wish I was a prisoner of a paradigm, but I am not.

To reiterate, to be clear, and to speak plain English, I was talking about technology, and what works for today, not yesterday. I think that the KOS is working fine, as is local blogging, as is the CP, PW, the WR, and many other outlets that express local news and views.

Can newsprint do it in these times? Less and less, I think. That, in toto, was my point, along with a healthy fear, like Fred Hampton had, the possibility of reactionary control by a government institution.

To conclude,I am ready for a public debate - old fashioned style, public hall, very 19th-Century with you, on, lemme see, David Wark Griffith, Ayn Rand, and whatever else you think may stick to your wall. I know what I stand for. Do you?
215-266-4877

Joshua Vincent
www.urbantools.org
www.ourcommonwealth.org
Phree Philly

I apologize to Sam Durso

For my intemperate language. I stand by the points I made, but not the tone. YPP had been moving away from the flaming; and I don't want to return to that.

I know I can edit and remove the post, which I shall do, but it ought to be out there for a bit, so that we can see "what not to do."
Josh

Joshua Vincent
www.urbantools.org
www.ourcommonwealth.org
Phree Philly

highly ,misguided

it also leaves out the deleterious effects of higher and higher profit demands on newspapers by owners, which when not met lead to layoffs and a lower quality paper, which fewer people are willing to buy, leading to more layoffs and a lower quality paper, which fewer people are willing to buy, leading to more layoffs and a lower quality paper, which fewer people are willing to buy, etc.

Newspapers are expensive, capital intensive businesses, and like public transit, don't necessarily operate best as a profit engine. Perhaps I am naive, but I ever since the 1980s and Gannett, I have always felt the pursuit of ever growing profits was bad for newspapers. And isn't it generally accepted that Knight Ridder's demand for profits ran several papers into the ground?

Keep the profits sustainable, invest in high quality reporters to increase/leverage your credibility, and I can't see how you fail to generate readership.

It may be too late for that, by the way.

I think we need to be clear on the language

What we need to preserve above all else is a newsroom full of dedicated journalists covering local issues with level of accountability and professionalism that goes beyond blogging. That may come in the form of subscription downloads to the iPhone like thing in our wrist watches in a couple of years for all I know. The point is a newsroom of dedicated jounalists covering local issues with the a depth you don't get on TV news. A written public record of account.

That is something worth preserving, whether we still get ink on our hands or not from accessing it or not.

-Sean
MrLuigi, my cat, actually only types half as badly as I do.

Being part of an independent media movement

myself through the Public School Notebook has raised a considerable number of questions about the future of journalism and where people see their fight.

When the Notebook first got started, it was initially just a group of us wanting a voice and outlet for concerns about the public schools. I was its first full-time editor way back. But once the state takeover hit in 2001, the Notebook graduated from its smaller roots to breaking news about political connections, the impact on privatization and a watchdog for school finances and academics.

One of the things which enabled and empowered us was the support from local foundations - Bread and Roses was our first, and William Penn Foundation our most recent and dramatic funder - and individual donors. The idea wasn't that only people who cared about schools would pay for us but that good news about public education was an essential service that went beyond profit. After all, if it were just about what people would pay for, newspapers would be reduced to sports, celebrity gossip, and photo-ops.

Stepping back for just a second, Bill Moyers has done about as much for the dialogue around quality journalism as anyone. And what's rather interesting to me, is that I'm not sure he views the newspaper crisis in the same panic as many of us do on the ground. He's been long talking that the conglomeration of big media and the profit-driven approach toward news would lead us down a dark path. He has long championed the web, independent media and non-profit supported journalism.

Here in Philly, independent places like PlanPhilly.com and Media Mobilizing Project as well as the Notebook have been hijacking some of the best beats around - development, immigration and education. It's notable that all of them are also non-profits which rely on foundation and donor support.

I can't imagine a Philadelphia without the Daily News either. I believe Elmer Smith, Chris Brennan, Dave Davies, Catherine Lucey, Valerie Russ, and Mensah Dean and so many others keep this a better more democratic society. But I also know as Lance points out that the media world is changing more rapidly than we can understand and on a scale largely beyond our control. Perhaps the interim to ensuring a free and vigilant press is some form of federal intervention. I'm on board with that.

But that will only be temporary. We're not going back to where we were before. And somehow we're going to have to reimagine another future - with or without our mainstream press.

@Lance. "It seems you either

@Lance.

"It seems you either don’t understand the difference between government supporting something needed, like public transit and schools that don’t pay for themselves and supporting buggy whips which no one needs.

The only way your argument makes any sense is if you believe newspapers have no value to the public, society or democracy and/or it doesn’t matter if a service is in the public interest, unless it can be supported by a free market, it shouldn’t exist."

Newspapers are just like buggy whips -- new technology has come along to replace its usefulness. You seem to believe in your attack on my genuineness -- note to self, continue to post anonymously -- that having a publicly available source of information is synonymous with newspapers. Much like transportation outlived horse and buggy, so will the media outlive "newspapers".

The issue is not whether there is an independent media, but whether printing words on paper and selling that paper is a viable business, when society has increasingly gone paperless. So it isn't a question of whether there should be a viable media, but rather whether society should subsidize ownership of an outmoded technology. That answer is no. The same exact information found in a newspaper can be delivered much cheaper via the internet. Content is not the question, mode of delivery is.

What's even more bizarre is that this discussion takes place in the context of difficult choices about public dollars. The idea of subsidizing printing of news on newspaper, when that technology is increasingly outmoded -- note that there is no more Rocky Mountain News, and Denver is a growing city -- is nuts. It is not just a question of whether we should spend money to help a good cause, but rather should we pass up other priorities to do so, in a world of scarcity. (More police or firemen(women) - or greater availability of news on newspaper.) Lots of other tradeoffs.

Again, the question is not over the media and all of its different forms, electronic, radio, print and other. But whether society should subsidize one of the more inefficient forms in a world of scarce resources.

The Newspaper industry has struggled for years. (No afternoon paper is a good example.) Society has changed. To me, it is crazy to subsidize that business model. (I'll leave aside the argument that the government is picking winners and losers -- why not subsidize electronic media or television news.)

@brendan. the reason that newspaper owners want higher profits is that the industry has viewed the business model as having a date certain for collapse. Because there is no way that the newspaper is a viable model in an online world. They cannot provide breaking news -- the TV did away with that. And they cannot provide in depth analysis -- blogs have really hurt that. And most importantly, it is TOO EXPENSIVE. That's the major issue. Why should society throw money away on an industry that is fighting against technology. Are newspaper employees more important than fireman, police officers, doctors, social workers, etc., and other public employees. I don't think anyone thinks that. But to argue that we subsidize their business -- which is running against the technological tide -- because some of us feel nostalgia for reading off of a piece of paper day old news seems odd to me.

Free press is not hurt. There are still many means of distribution. Plus, efficiently run small newspapers still can make money. But note that places that used to send home newsletters, (think schools, non-profits, etc.) have found that it is a much better source of resources to send a pdf w/ an email. Political campaigns as well. Barack's email and internet campaign was the rage, not his direct mail. Those of us who have done political advertising will immediately note that electronic media is much more likely to get to the folks you are targeting than the DN or Inky. Because of its inefficiency of getting eyeballs to look at it in an online world, advertisers prefer other means of communications. If advertisers feel that way, why should the public subsidize that business.

(All of this leaves out the obvious conflict of having the government sponsor its watchdog. Sure that can be structured around, but that is no small concern. Dan posted a court case which raised that exact issue.)

While the DN's demise would be sad, spending precious resources to subsidize an outdated business to me would be sadder.

We are talking at two different angles and both missing

Blog models just do not do quality reporting. They don't do in-depth analysis covering a variety of sides like the Kerkastra article on the tax abatements we all took turns taking the pieces we deemed most insightful from. Bloggers don't go and follow a trial or piece of legislation for months and follow stories back to their origins and get everybodies quotes, the heroes and the goats, like reporters working for a newsroom do. Bloggers are rarely held accountable for our sources like newspapers are. They do a level and type of reporting that is absolutely worth preserving.

Newspapers on the other hand are making a transition to the environment of the internet and figuring out the revenue stream is still very much a work in progress. But thats a transition that has been going on for over a decade and thats not all thats going on right now. As big an arse as Tierney is, he's right that readership is up. The problem is that right now, this last few months, advertising income has gone off of a cliff because of the economy.

The big long term problem - newspapers as a class adapting to the paradigm of the internet - is simply not all that going on right now. Right now the car dealerships and local businesses that are the bread and butter of newspaper advertising are just now running scareder about advertising expenses than any of their managers have probably ever been in their lifetime. We have a short term crisis on top of an industry-wide transition that been going on for decades and will likely continue to go on for a couple decades more.

I think some people are mistaking the short-term crisis with the long-term transition in this discussion because its all happening at once and admitedly a little hard to untangle.

Is the model of local newsrooms accountable to professional standards of reporting following City Hall and Harrisburg something worth holding on to short term while we go through a paradign shift that may be radically different in 10 or 15 years than even any of us can imagine? I tend to think so. Even if ends up an abbreviated Metro-esque printed product connected to a more in depth internet-driven mostly written but with little clips of video or whatever download to our super cell phones or what have you.

I think the automobile industry has to make fundamental changes in its model - how it relates to dealers, efficiency and emissions standards, even ownership models (car share services, etc.) but that does not mean for this economic crisis we should let them collapse before they can make that transition. Keeping quality local news reporting afloat during this time of crisis, while it still makes that bigger transition, I think also has real merit.

-Sean
MrLuigi, my cat, actually only types half as badly as I do.

I agree that blogs don't

I agree that blogs don't currently do the in-depth reporting that newspapers currently do or have done. But they are pretty new and do a lot. I think part of that is that the investigative journalists are still employed with the newspapers. As newspapers/blog sites with paid advertising find their way, you will have more investigative journalists move to blogs. Plus, blogs have done an excellent job of uncovering stories that papers haven't yet done in real time. (Definitions are also an issue, I read Politico and call it a blog, but it resembles and online newspaper, and has newspaper reporters.)

I think that the reason that blogs haven't become online papers, and online papers not yet blogs, is that to do all that investigative journalism -- which I think is the main reason value folks have identified here for newspapers -- costs a lot of money to support. Sending a guy down to City Hall or trials for weeks without daily updates while he/she looks for a story, has a pretty high overhead. It's the same reason, I think, that newspapers and televisions have cut international bureaus. Lots of overhead cost and hard to monetize.

The issue with the advertising model, while exacerbated by the current economy, was not doing well before. Newspaper advertising is a tough sell because of declining readership and much better ways to target viewers -- internet, cell phones, targeted mail, etc. So ads were dropping, noticeably classified ads -- to the internet as well.

The question is how to make sure that investigative journalism exists. My belief is that as blogs and other internet provided content comes of age, you will have more eyes, not less, watching the content and corrupt government. Bloggers are breaking stories that the mainstream media -- for lack of a better phrase -- are simply not catching. (Lots of bloggers, few of them.)

I guess the big issue I have is the idea that in the face of this declining revenue model, we the taxpayers should foot the bill. That's a problem for me. We have a series of bad choices and footing the bill for papers, where a small part of their role is doing investigative stories, seems like a bad idea.

Investigative reporting does not require the platform of a newspaper. Goppelt's Hallwatch did as much to provide light on City Hall as much of what the DN does on a day to day basis. (I understand that the fact that the site is not up is evidence against my larger point.) But blogs/internet reporting have a luxury that newspapers don't have -- it is not exponentially more expensive to report more. That allows for quicker commentary -- by commentators -- and much more indepth posts. So in the world of the Internet and blogs, more eyes are on government. That's why I am troubled by subsidizing papers. The internet has allowed Citizen Journalism -- all the rage at papers -- to be taken to a new level. Now there are lots of people who can report/whistle blow at local government.

As for the auto industry, it's not quite dead, but it has some hard long term issues similar to the papers. Detroit has been making cars that people don't want. People have told Detroit this. They didn't care. Autoworkers have been successful, in the past, in negotiating rich contracts. We do not subsidize the auto industry the way other countries do. And the US has had a strong dollar, until recently, that has subsidized foreign imports.

So in the face of all of these bad decisions to deal with difficult conditions by Detroit, it is difficult to subsidize their bad decisions, at huge costs, and in the face of other competing needs. Why not blow money (and them losing money is blowing our money) on education, health care, mass transit, etc? Of course our subsidizing them allows them to continue to spend money on advertising in newspapers, so we are already giving an indirect subsidy.

The connection between the automobile industry and the local paper is a good one to point out. But, given that the auto industry also requires some massive amount of our tax dollars, money not spent on health care, more teachers, improving infrastructure, getting mass transit in good shape, etc., the industry will also suffer. Which means that the outlook for papers is bleak and would also require more taxpayer funds.

I guess my issue is that Bush said we were broke, and then blew billions on Iraq, and then billions on the financial system, and folks don't have health care, neighborhoods are still dangerous and dilapidated, and too many schools need capital improvements and better teachers.

I just wish that would make the headlines -- not here, but in the papers more often. (Because the DN is quite serious about what bleeds, leads.)

and if you don't have access to the internet?

I am not sure what people think should happen to people who don’t have access to computers and the internet when they suggest that we no longer need newspapers.

I understand that at some point there may be no need for printed material, but I don’t believe it is now. I fear that people who believe that main stream newspapers can be replaced by the internet and bloggers don’t understand how privileged they are, not only to be able to afford a computer, I phone and internet conductivity, but even the knowledge of how these technologies work.

Eliminating full time, professional reporters and a media that most can access will not save the taxpayers money. Just the opposite, the fewer legitimate reporters we have the easier it is for our government to waste our money and well paid spokespeople to confuse the public.

Lance Haver

DN isn't free

Internet access based on cost is not a reason to support the daily papers -- they cost money. And while home internet access isn't pervasive in poor communities, it is alot more available than one would think with advancements in cell phone technology. (Of course that is a reason to make sure public libraries are available, but that is another story.)

But the issue about investigative journalism isn't that the wrong doing will be exposed because everybody will read the paper, but rather because some people will read the paper and then tell others about what they have read. So the key is allowing there to be investigative journalism. Everyone currently doesn't read the papers, in fact they only reach a small portion of the populace -- which is precisely why they are having trouble getting advertising dollars. (And that populace pays for it, which hurts the concern for the poor by subsidizing something with a couple hundred dollar a year barrier to entry. That's a nice regressive tax on the poor.)

I think that bloggers can fill that role of investigative journalism. And more importantly, I can't see subsidizing the rest of the dribble that appears in the DN for the sake of an occasional investigative news story. I think that the deterrent action of investigative journalism can be easily had by a questioning public posting their views for all to see. (And if it is juicy, the tv stations pick it up, and print it as news, and then everyone will see. That's how it works now.)

As for the actual investigative journalism, as I mentioned in my first post, and for a while on this site, the DN falls short in that category. There are a handful of reporters who have ever published any investigative piece of note in the DN. However, even the best get spun by politicians so that their news stories read like puff pieces from the mouths of Philly's political hackgentisa. What the DN does do is at least tell what is happening down at City Hall, if embellished with its own 7th grade bathroom popularity poll view of the world of politics. So what are we missing out on, an occasional good story, which blogs can easily replace and the threat of good investigative journalism, which blogs have already replaced.

That does not require public dollars. (Of course, we still have not addressed whether public dollars would deter investigative journalism all together. Hard not to notice Tierney's effect on the Inky -- loved the double editorials.)

Potential actions?

OK, it's one thing to get worried about the potential- likely?- demise of the PDN and/or Inky. It's another to bloody do something about it.

One course of action has been suggested: try to get a local Congressman- Specter has been mentioned- to steer TARP funds towards saving the paper. A good, even meritorious, idea. It does, though, raise the specter (pardon the pun) of state ownership of the media, which is hardly a democratic idea. Soviet Communist, perhaps, but there's an old Russian saying: Ne pravda na Pravdye, ne izvestia ne izvestia. I gave it in poorly transliterated Russian b/c of the pun: There's no Truth in 'The Truth,' (Pravda, the offical state newspaper of the USS), and there's no news in 'The News' (Izvestia, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union).

I suggest an approach which combines private ownership w/public ownership: organize a group of investors- small investors, not only the rich- to buy stock in a corporation which could buy PNI. Make the Inky + Daily News something akin to the Green Bay Packers: owned by the community it serves. Citizen owners would get stock certificates, just like owners of the Packers do.

It could create an entirely new concept in print media: locally, diversely held, non-profit, newspapers.

Easy? Hell no; I'm not sure it's ever been tried before, and certainly not on this large a scale. But it's not impossible; someone just needs to get the ball rolling.

Someone here, perhaps?

-Z

Respectfully, Please spend time doing something else

The time spent on helping the DN or the Inky is time spent not organizing to help make the City safer, schools better or focus on the host of problems the City has. But more importantly, it communicates to others what your priorities are. And most folks, at least those I talk to, are appalled by the idea of providing loans (or taking an equity interest) to the newspapers.

Not to reiterate all that I have said before, but when does it stop? What makes the newspapers a more deserving business than any other. And if the government is going to put its funds at risk, in an environment of shrinking funds, why do so for things outside of its core mission?

I don't typically take strong issue with what I read here, but it seems so clear to me that there are more pressing priorities.

The part of the DN that is in the broader public interest is that the DN is a part of the identity of the region. So it would be a sad loss, but then there are no breweries in Brewerytown, no Stetson hats, no Packard automobiles, etc., etc.

It you want to save newspapers, the time to act is now!

This will be my last post on this topic.

I don’t believe I will change the minds of those who believe newspapers are buggy whips, bloggers are reporters and if the newspapers fail society will be better off.

All I can hope is that those who feel as I do, that Society still needs newspapers and newspapers need help to transition to a new paradigm, will contact our elected officials and ask them to make TARP funds available to newspapers across America.

Offering low cost capital is not the same as ownership. It is what government does for colleges, hospitals and other institutions that provide a public benefit. Certainly newspapers provdide a public service.

Lance Haver

Offering low cost capital is

Offering low cost capital is legally different from ownership only slightly.

Debt and equity are same sides of the same coin. If you provide debt to a company, and you take as collateral the assets of a company (including ownership interests in the company in some instances), then if the company defaults, you effectively now run the business of the company, generally speaking. What is typical in providing debt to companies, be it loans from a bank (line of credit, bank loan, credit facility) or the government subsidized bond debt associated with hospitals, colleges, etc., is the right to make management changes after an event of default and ongoing covenants from the debtor about how the business is operated prior to an event of default. So there is a certain amount of hands off control a debtor provides. The key is that after you stop paying the debt, the lender has lots of control, in this instance the federal government.

In the context of equity, be it shares, membership or partnership interests, prior to an event of default, most are passive investors with professional managers running the business. After an event of default, those passive investors have the right to appoint different managers. Those remedies and covenants about the business are not unlike those treated debt holders.

The major difference is treatment during a liquidation or in bankruptcy.

So when we hear that the government has taken an equity stake or lent an institution money, I'd not make to much out of the form of the investment. After they stop paying (or some other default), the government will have similar rights and similar credit exposure.

The key is that if there is an event of default, real dollars that the government invested have gone down the drain. Also, if the company underpeforms then the value of that debt (which in happier times could have been syndicated on the secondary markets), will be worth less and taxpayers will have taken paper losses.

To paraphrase an older lawyer at a residential real estate closing describing the documents, "If you pay, you stay, if you don't, you won't." The risk to the taxpayer is what happens if the companies don't. The reason that the private markets are not providing capital to the newspapers is that they have already shown that they cannot create free cash flow to pay debt. While a lower interest rate may help, in the context of a business environment that projects progressively lower revenues and higher expenses, default on that debt becomes more likely.

So the question is whether we as taxpayers should bear the risk of running a newspaper -- something that unlike hospitals, banks and colleges, the government has no prior experience running. We could just take the same amount of money that we would lose in running such an enterprise and just burn it in the furnace. Same economic effect.

If newspapers were invented today

Just think: If someone told you you could get all the information you need, every day, on paper, for less than a dollar, and then throw it a way at the end of the day-you would think it was the greatest invention of all time.

Candidly, that's how I felt

when I could first read newspapers online. With RSS feeds and blogs all over the world, I read all the information I want, listen to music whenever I want, email and chat with friends everywhere, all at the same time, and I don't pay one cent.

The Washington Post has an interesting article on the decline of newspapers. Short story, expensive trucks and facilities with declining revenue, but a widespread acknowledgment that their loss will create a void of investigative journalism.

I don't think that not having newspapers is a good thing, my view of the economy is so dark that we should hoard resource for the most important causes, and this one isn't making the cut.

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