Losing power of the press
As newspapers decline, a gap in coverage grows
With a recent wave of cutbacks, layoffs and consolidations threatening the already-reeling newspaper industry, readers are left with a question: what is being lost?
Even as online news sources proliferate and 24-hour cable channels provide a running tally of the days events, newspapers traditionally the bastions of investigative reporting and public service journalism are gasping for breath in nationwide.In the last week, the Tribune Company announced it will file for bankruptcy, the Rocky Mountain News in Denver is likely to close and the Miami Herald may be up for sale. This comes after years of shrinking newsrooms from the smallest weeklies to behemoths like The Los Angeles Times.
What this means is fewer voices, fewer opinions presented in fewer ways, all of which has a tremendous impact on the public discourse in a very dangerous way, said Mary Boyle, a spokeswoman for Common Cause.
Of course, journalism thrives in a variety of media, and Web sites such as ProPublica and Politico have shown that quality reporting doesnt require barrels of newsprint. But the speed at which newspapers are in decline will leave a hole in the media landscape that is hard to fill, especially in mid-size markets.
When you look at who breaks the news, its newspapers, said Tom Patterson, a professor of government and the press at Harvards Kennedy School of Government.
Robert Kubey, director of media studies at Rutgers University, said when papers cut staff it often means less oversight of local government.
How do they do investigative journalism and keep politicians and businesses honest? he said. Blogs can fill in some of the vacuum but do they have the resources to risk lawsuits for taking on the powerful?
Amy Takis, 32, of Brooklyn Heights, said she fears that as newspapers disappear, people may lose the big picture. Blog reporters are not fact checking pieces because the demand is so overwhelming.
Whatever the ultimate fate of newspapers, they remain a critical training ground even for journalists who go on to work in other media. As newspaper staffs shrink, so might the ranks of those who dedicate their careers to the profession.
And readers who now rely on an array of disparate sources for information will need to ask more about who is reporting the news and what their motives are, said Kelly McBride, an ethics group leader at the Poynter Institute.
Consumers are going to have to develop a set of critical questions, she said. For the most part, professional journalists answered these questions before the information came out. Now, news is in the hands of the entire universe.