Sunday, December 18, 2005

What's killing the messenger


Sunday December 18, 2005

What's killing the messenger

By Steven Barrie-Anthony, Times Staff Writer

IT'S a gloomy Christmastime for print journalism. There have always been doomsayers in this business -- we're a curmudgeonly breed -- but after a year of hard knocks and tough realizations, even happy-go-lucky newshounds are questioning their fate.

"The sooner [2005] is over, the better," says Michael Massing, a Columbia Journalism Review contributor. "There have been so many negative developments, it's easy to say, 'Things can only get better.' But that's probably wishful thinking."

In the last year, newspapers have:

Lost readers. Industrywide weekday circulation dropped 2.6% in the six-month period ending in September, and many observers expect a continuing decline. Even more startling is the fact, supported by demographic studies, that few young people read the paper. They'd rather get their news fix from inkless, un-foldable computer screens. What nerve.

Lost advertisers, mostly tied to declining circulation numbers. Classified advertising revenue -- once a cash cow -- has also plummeted, in part because of websites like offering ad space for free.

Trimmed staffs. Buyouts and layoffs have become common. The Los Angeles Times has cut 85 editorial positions; among other papers, the Boston Globe was planning to cut 35 and the New York Times 45. Hundreds of newspaper jobs outside of newsrooms have also been lost. All of which journalists tend to find abominable, given that most papers remain highly profitable.

Endured the Judy Miller brouhaha. The ex-New York Times reporter spent 85 days in jail for refusing to reveal a White House source -- and then flip-flopped after that source, I. Lewis Libby, sent her a letter. Critics say that Miller's brand of "trust-me journalism," which relies heavily on anonymous sourcing, spawns uncomfortably close relationships between journalists and sources, and that it was this kind of reporting that led Miller and journalism at large to accept the Bush administration's claims that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

Still, not everybody is resigned to the craft's demise. "Professional news-gathering organizations will survive and prosper in the future," says Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at New York University. "But not without changing a lot -- more than many of them are prepared for."

No comments: