The American newspaper industry has responded to an appeal for 100 newspapers to write editorials on the same day attacking President Trump for being critical of the news media. This act is an admission of the extent to which the national media has lost power and credibility. It may just be their swan song––a last minute attempt to regain status and authority. My bet is that it will fail. It will fail to sway any members of the public who aren’t already Trump haters and it will fail to restore the national media’s position as the arbiter of right and wrong in America. That horse left the stable years ago and is not coming back.
Why do I claim the media has lost its power? First, you need to concede that once upon a time everyone counted on newspapers for national and local news. Even with the emergence of radio and TV, newspapers held their own, funded by advertising, as the primary source of not only in-depth coverage, but by reporting on a greater number of stories each day than the broadcast media.
The handwriting signaling the end of their monopoly came with cable TV. Now people could hear about breaking news immediately and didn’t have to wait for the morning or afternoon paper to learn about it.
P.S.: Yes, there were afternoon newspapers. In my hometown––population 20,000 there were morning and afternoon newspapers until well into the 1960s.
But the largest nail in the newspaper’s coffin was the arrival of the Internet. The Internet is cable TV on steroids. It not only enables people to learn about breaking news within seconds, but it offers both scope and depth of coverage from a variety of official and unofficial sources.
The newspaper industry responded slowly and poorly. Why? Because of the huge capital investment required to produce a daily newspaper. That’s why newspapers have shut down and some dailies now publish twice or once a week, and why all but a few major newspapers print many fewer pages than they did just a generation ago. Union domination of newsrooms also made it difficult for newspapers to adapt.
Newspapers found they had to compete by offering web versions. Some have been able to charge subscriptions; many find they lose more money doing so than offering free access and selling ads on those pages. Either way, newspaper websites are not the only source of news. Millions rely on other sources. Some of those are poorly vetted and over time followers figure that out and abandon those outlets.
But that’s just the structural story. The rest of the story is that what was once an industry where views varied widely from conservative to liberal, has on the national level, pushed aside the conservative outlook, and united to become not just the reporter of news, but the maker of news created on behalf of a liberal-left ideology.
Consider how papers like the New York Times and Washington Post transformed their editorial outlook of the CIA and FBI. In the 1960s, both papers were highly critical of those agencies, seeing them as emblematic of a nascent police state––above the law and accountable to no one. Today, however, those papers love those agencies because they did exactly what they were accused of doing in the 1960s. They took sides in a national presidential election, acting outside the law on behalf of one candidate to the detriment of the other candidate. Further, their illegal and unethical behavior continued after the election to the extent they tried to subvert the Trump administration. They created false evidence, suborned perjury and leaked classified information to the news media.
I don’t think I’m being naïve in suggesting that the national media today is different than it was 50 or 100 years ago. Yes, some media organizations in those days had greater access to power than others and they used their power on behalf of certain parties and candidates. The difference is that there was competition in those days. The fact that 100 newspapers today (out of 1200+) are willing to act in unison is testimony to the lack of competition for viewpoints and scope of coverage, which is why subscription numbers are down and editorial pages are not read by the majority of subscribers.
One hundred editorial writers will be claiming they are defending freedom of the press. This self-indulgent, holier than thou, attitude doesn’t fly with me. Mr. Trump’s criticisms focus on the reality that some media are out to get him, and he has that right. It’s called free speech.
The President’s criticisms have not resulted in any reporters being personally attacked, or newspaper offices being bombed or burned down. (The incident in Annapolis had nothing to do with national politics.)
The national media is mad, but they are not telling the truth about why they’re mad¬––which is that millions of Americans agree with the President. Long before 2016, millions came to view newspaper coverage as biased against them. They read stories that made the average American out to be deplorable, racist, misogynist, bigoted, and a despoiler of the environment. How many of you like being attacked on a daily basis with the chance to defend yourself?
Newspapers have not learned the lesson that they don’t represent the majority of Americans. Acts like 100 editorials attacking the President make that clear and will likely hasten the day when the number of dailies sinks below 1,000.