George Sarant

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When I was a kid I loved going to a newsstand in Times Square that used to carry all of the out-of-town newspapers, which I would collect with an insatiable curiosity about other places and information sources. If you named a city I could tell you the names of its newspapers. Many are sadly long gone and more are on their way out.

There has been much handwringing about the demise of newspapers, especially by liberals as most papers reflect their views, but this should be of some concern to conservatives as well. The Internet and cable news along with things like Craig’s List, which has decimated the local ad market paper depend on, have eaten away at the newspaper audience. If it weren’t for supermarkets and department stores most would be toast as circulation drops and advertisers migrate to other media. Even the Wall Street Journal, the largest and best paper in the country barely makes a profit. To these other factors I would add the decline of attention span in younger populations. Few have the patience or discipline to read a long newspaper article. I’m a fast reader, but it still takes an hour or so to read through everything in the Journal. Few people have that much time or patience. There are a couple of free newspapers doing fairly well here in NY, because they contain articles that can be easily finished in the course of subway ride. What those who are concerned about the decline of “substantive journalism” are missing is that there isn’t that much of an audience for it.

On the other hand something like the New York Times regularly serves as the new source for much of the other media, which is one of the reasons much of the “mainstream” tends to have a liberal bias. That is why there is so much concern about the possible demise of the Times- it would be the loss of a primary source of news. Having been in their crosshairs at one time I can attest to how the rest of the pack slavishly follows the Times, which definitely has an ideological liberal agenda. Many of us won’t miss the Times for that reason, as much as elites may moan.

The conventional thinking is that failing papers may eventually wind up on the Internet. The problem with that is that thus far the web can only support a skeleton staff, not the cadres of reporters papers currently employ, albeit in decreasing numbers. Some regret the demise of “investigative” journalism and substantive articles, as well as field reporting. Yet there is plenty of that on the Internet, it is just that the power there shifts from single-source newspapers to news aggregators. This at best results in a kind of Wikipedia level of accuracy.

The notion of professional journalism and objective hard news is a relatively recent phenomenon, mostly of the twentieth century. This ideal has hardly been maintained by many of those in the field, but it was at least a theoretical standard. Prior to the last century most newspapers did not even bother claiming objectivity. In fact newspapers actually began as partisan political propaganda organs.. You only have to go back and read some of the scurrilous attacks on the Founding Fathers in the press to realize this. Newspapers were printed with a political objective and from the beginning have had an agenda. That is why even today some papers have the name of a political party on their masthead even if the connection is long gone. So this tells us much about the true origins of newspapers.

So perhaps this is how newspapers can survive- as organs or advocates of political organizations. There is certainly massive amounts of money being donated to political parties so there is no reason why some of it cannot find its way here. That along with wealthy people who can afford to take the loss may be the way out. It may be less than ideal, but its also nothing new.

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January 17, 2010 at 10:01 PM

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When the News Corporation took over the Wall Street Journal last year I had very mixed feelings. News Corp. already owns the NY Post, the Weekly Standard, the London Times as well as many other papers, and above all Fox News. What concerns me is that virtually the entire right is concentrated in a single corporation, so that if anything were to go wrong it would be a disaster. As long as Rupert Murdoch is alive and Roger Ailes runs Fox News there is no problem. But Murdoch’s heirs are all more liberal, so if he dies it could be disastrous for the right. Never mind that there is a winning formula as Fox News trumps all the other cable networks and earns more than all the major broadcast and cable news media combined. There might be pressure to move in a more liberal direction and thus mimic all the other networks and newspapers.

There is a recurring pattern of heirs to fortunes and foundations often being more liberal than the founder and abandoning his philosophy. This undoubtedly has something to do with being socially acceptable to other elites, most of whom are liberal. The Wall Street Journal has had a consistent philosophy since its founding and was always independent. It was sad to see it folded into another company. It has already undergone changes that are not very appealing. As long as Roger Ailes is around Fox News is safe, given that he started it and continues to guide it. He is the key here. Watch Roger Ailes. If he is no longer there it does not bode well for the future.

The “liberals” cannot abide a single conservative major media outlet and will do anything they can to eliminate this company. The Obama administration tried without success to boycott Fox News and exclude them from press conferences, but even the other media thought this was going too far and the attempt failed. Howard Dean has said he wants to shut down Fox News and it is a constant obsession of left-wing activists who cannot abide even one right-leaning media outlet. At this point government action would be too obvious and heavy-handed, but not so heredity. At this point all we can do is pray for Rupert Murdoch and hope that somehow a better succession will occur.

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January 11, 2010 at 2:21 PM

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