THE FRONT PORCH – After a rocky start of getting my newspapers delivered to my new digs, they arrive right on time to bring me their biased left-wing views on everything from baseball scores to the weather. But for how long? These are tough days for papers, what with all the competition from semaphores, smoke signals and particularly the iThings. Those last devices make reading from a large piece of paper with printed words on it comparable to checking your sundial for the time. Every survey shows more people, particularly millennials, are getting their news from sources other than newspapers. There is one factor that Generation X or Y or whatever, who think Global Warming is a rock band and J. Edgar Hoover invented the vacuum cleaner, don’t know or don’t appreciate: These various iBoxes – and radio and TV news — get most of their news from newspapers. Put it this way: take away newspapers from these other sources of information and the parasites would have to shut down. How many on-the-scene reporters do Breitbart News and Rush Limbaugh have? (The fact that, at this very moment, you are reading a newspaper puts you in an elite class.)
One example: Years ago I visited KPRC-TV and the news director, Ray Miller – an icon in Houston journalism – had on his desk clippings from the two Houston newspapers. He would call a reporter over and give him (back then they were all hims) a clipping and say: “Follow this up.” On the national level, I suspect you would find in the newsrooms of the networks, well-thumbed copies of our major daily newspapers. This is also true of our conservative radio talk-show hosts and commentators whose feed stock are the daily newspapers they love to hate.
Yet those papers are struggling. Other sources for the disappearing press play a role, along with the fact that the papers’ obituary pages carry the names of newspaper readers, and young folks are not replacing them. Another reason is that the newspaper industry has been torpedoed by nitwits who think they can run a paper. The Chicago Tribune was bought by Sam Zell, a guy who made millions in Chicago real estate and always wanted to own a newspaper. The paper went bankrupt. The Los Angeles Times has the fourth-largest circulation among U.S. newspapers and has won more than 40 Pulitzer Prizes. After many changes in owners, management and editors, the LA Times is now controlled by Patrick Soon-Shiong, surgeon, entrepreneur, and philanthropist. Not a newspaperman. Good luck, Times. The New York Daily News (which had been sold for $1) saw revenues sink 22 percent between 2014 and 2016, then cut half its staff. Since 2007, 15 dailies have shuttered and the industry has shed a fifth of its journalists since 2001.
This trail of tears for “the enemy of the American people” continues. Dean Singleton, known as “the newspaper killer,” made a fortune by selling his papers in Dallas and Houston to the competition, which immediately closed them. Singleton’s company, MediaNews Group, bought the Denver Post, then went bankrupt, and sold the Post to one of those faceless New York City hedge funds, Alden Global Capital, known for laying off reporters, cutting costs to the bone and hallowing out papers. Like I said, nitwits, often with little or no journalistic experience just greed, have helped torpedoed the newspaper biz.
Going against the grain is the Washington Post. Owned forever by the Graham family, it was sold to Amazon tycoon Jeff Bezos (from Houston, incidentally) for $250 million in cash. Bezos is not exactly a hands-on meddler. A Post editor said, “He checks in about every two weeks to see how we’re doing.” No dimwit. While we are discussing the Post, we have all heard the “Washington Post March.” I’ll hum a few bars and you will recognized it immediately. In 1889, John Philip Sousa, the U.S. Marine Band conductor and composer, was asked by the Washington Post to compose a march for the newspaper’s essay contest awards ceremony. Sousa wrote a march which caught on and is now played by most of the bands around the world, but not many people make the connection that the song is named for a newspaper.
Now we come to the food fight: Bezos is getting a divorce after love letters were revealed by another publication, and an expert on such matters, President Donald Trump, tweeted: “So sorry to hear the news about Jeff Bozo being taken down by a competitor whose reporting, I understand, is far more accurate than the reporting in his lobbyist newspaper, the Amazon Washington Post. Hopefully the paper will soon be placed in better & more responsible hands!” Trump’s “far more accurate” paper is – ta-da! –the National Enquirer. But for him to publicly ridicule a man about to lose half of his fortune certainly shows class.
Stop the presses! Despite all this gloom in the city room, there is a silver lining around the front page because these are good times for the Times – Trump’s most hated enemy next to Nancy Pelosi – The New York Times. (Full disclosure: for seven years I worked for the Times in the city room as news writer for its radio station.) “The failing New York Times” announced that during the third quarter of 2018 it reached more than 3-million paid digital subscribers, a net increase of roughly 203,000, and more than 4-million readers total. Most of this increase is due to turning from paper to online, which is the way newspapers are going. Net income reached $24.9 million while profits rose a whopping 30 percent to $41.4 million. The paper now has more readers than ever: it is read in all 193 countries that belong to the United Nations, and has at least one online reader in Tuvalu and Antarctica. Sorry, Mr. President, but that’s not fake news. Oh, and stay away from Times Square. It was named for that failing newspaper – in 1904.
Ashby reads at email@example.com