Bad News

There is more going on in our world now than at any time in the past, yet at the same time, fewer and fewer people work at sorting it all

By Dave Skinner

On Sunday, April 8, the Denver Post published a full section of editorials, some 14 all told, that hammered the newspaper’s hedge-fund ownership for abandoning journalism – in large part by cutting the Post’s newsroom staff from about 250 in 2010 to “fewer than 100 today.”

Part of the Post’s problem is it is owned by a hedge fund, Alden Global Capital, which just coincidentally was sued in March by ANOTHER hedge fund that owns a minority share in Alden’s “Digital First Media” or DFM newspaper chain.

The lawsuit alleges major asset-stripping, real estate scammery both foreign and domestic, even stunts like an “opportunities fund” looking to profit from the Greek fiscal meltdown – in large part, Alden Global is accused of abusing still-profitable newspapers (and their readers) as a cash cow for unrelated investments. Even newspaper employee pension funds have been dumped into the Alden money machine. The outcome of the litigation might have far-reaching impacts, as DFM controls many other newspapers, including the Boston Herald (versus the Globe) and the San Jose Mercury News (which has a national reputation for its Silicon Valley reporting).

In Denver, as the Post editors warn, the “smart money is that in a few years The Denver Post will be rotting bones. And a major city in an important political region will find itself without a newspaper.”

At least one of my multiple personalities is enjoying a bit of vindictive schadenfreude. When I lived in Colorado (sorry, but employment matters), I subscribed to both Denver dailies: The broadsheet, liberal Denver Post and the tabloid, conservative Rocky Mountain News.

It was fascinating to see the differences in copy, not just in the editorial pages, but also in “same event” news items – an ongoing seminar in how news is reported, or not. Yet, in that era 20 to 30 years ago, both papers were prosperous, with large contingents of actual reporters who did real reporting in the hope of stomping their local rivals.

Less than 10 years after I came home, the Rocky folded. While the Post has hung on, without the Rocky to keep things honest, its content has shrunk, not just in quantity, but in quality and objectivity. Even the Post admitted readers could “heap blame for the loss of readership on claims — too many of them credible — that newsrooms have lost sight of their responsibility to be truly objective.” Yeah, so now reap the whirlwind, suckers!

Yet another one of my personalities twitches with concern. This is the Information Age, right? You know, where your handheld phone gives you access to more data in an instant than could be found in a lifetime just 50 years ago? But information needs context to be useful.

And who provides context, at least for “news” of ongoing events? Not Facebook. Not Twitter. Not even TV cuts the mustard. Sure, a picture is supposedly worth a thousand words, but in the 20 minutes of the half-hour that aren’t drug commercials (with disclaimers), there might be 10 or 11 “reports” of maybe 300 words each – barely scratching the surface.

Even now, with newspapers (and journalism) in a nauseating spiral, newspapers (or at least their digital, for-profit equivalents) remain the primary means of “news gathering” in America.

There is more going on in our world now than at any time in the past, yet at the same time, fewer and fewer people work at sorting it all, picking the nuggets out of growing rivers of muck.

Worse, when a nugget is found, there is less and less ad revenue to buy the paper needed to tell the story. I mean, when was the last time you read a really good long-form newspaper story that left you smarter?

Worst of all, it just so happens that there are four “media relations” professionals cranking out “press releases” for every single “credentialed journalist” remaining in America. Four spin doctors pushing a narrative at every lonely reporter? That’s not a good ratio.

To me, the crisis at the Post isn’t just bad news – it’s another warning that we’re approaching a world with no news at all.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.