A simple question, and troubling report, underscore media troubles

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Pity the poor newspaper, where ideas can be smeared quicker than the ink.

It was a simple question that elicited lots of reactions, and came coincidentally with a report suggesting that a major television network news agency was dealing in so-called “fake news.”

The challenge, via social media: “Name one reason you think newspaper circulation has tanked. Why they are failing.”

Quickly emerging as a widespread reaction from respondents was a distrust of newspapers, including accusations of bias and substituting opinion for news.

The query was posted as a reaction to a story that appeared on the Laredo, TX Morning Times website, picked up from the Washington Post. The story looked at how the coronavirus is “devastating the news industry.”

No doubt about it, advertising revenue is down—businesses that have been shuttered under emergency orders that close so-called “non-essential” businesses such as restaurants, retail shops in strip malls and other small businesses do not purchase advertising—but it appears mistrust of the media is up.

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That was underscored by a troubling story in the Washington Times that began, “The Pentagon says a supposed intelligence report cited by ABC News on an emerging COVID-19 pandemic doesn’t exist.”

The original ABC News report has been “updated to reflect comment from the Pentagon.”
According to the Washington Times story, “The Pentagon said it did an exhaustive search and could find no such document.” But the ABC story seemed to be well documented. Who has it right, who is wrong?

The Washington Times quotes Col. R. Shane Day, identified as “a physician who heads the medical intelligence unit.” He issued what the newspaper said was a “flat denial.”

“As a matter of practice, the National Center for Medical Intelligence does not comment publicly on specific intelligence matters,” Col. Day reportedly stated. “However, in the interest of transparency during this current public health crisis, we can confirm that media reporting about the existence/release of a National Center for Medical Intelligence Coronavirus-related product/assessment in November of 2019 is not correct. No such NCMI product exists.”

Technology has essentially left the print media—newspapers—in the dust of history, many respondents observed.

One retired journalist observed, “There are modern problems with newspaper business models. But anyone who says that good newspapers deal in ‘fake news’ is a politicized parrot who probably hasn’t read one cover to cover and doesn’t understand that newspapers present a spectrum of ideas and opinions. Newspapers cover communities, local governments, local schools. The first thing a dictator squelches is a free press.”

Could there be another reason, one that newspaper editors and publishers may not care to discuss? That might be the belief that most major metropolitan newspapers, and many of the smaller ones, began alienating large segments of their reading audiences decades ago by taking editorial positions endorsing strict gun control. Many newspapers stopped publishing outdoor sections, or at least greatly reduced attention to the consumptive activities of fishing and, especially, hunting.

This theory might have gained some traction in recent days among readers of the Seattle Times, where Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist David Horsey published a cartoon and an accompanying column taking a hard swipe at gun owners and gun shops asking to remain open as “essential businesses” during the pandemic crisis. Responses to the column were cut off at 500, and many of those reader comments are polarizing.

Horsey and other cartoonists are paid to express opinions, whether readers like that or not. It’s protected by the First Amendment, same as this article.

But for gun owners, too many newspaper editorial pages have used the First to demonize and propose limits on the Second. Who is going to continue subscribing to a newspaper that is perceived as determined to erase the lifestyle of so many potential readers?

Almost two years ago, Salon published a report that noted the closing of 500 “rural papers…since 2004.” That’s a lot of lost media and rural, community oriented newspapers were once the backbone of journalism because they were local, about locals—individuals and businesses—and whether weeklies, dailies or somewhere in between, they provided something to readers that bigger newspapers and broadcast media never did. They were about the “homefolks” with stories about who died, who was born, who got married, who won the local high school football game; things that sold more than one copy to some people. Many years ago in parts of the country, it was not unusual to see photographs in the Sports section of some lucky hunter with a nice buck or a couple of ducks or pheasants. When was the last time a newspaper published a whole page of outdoor success stories with photos of game taken and tagged?

It once was an unwritten rule that if you wanted to sell a dozen copies of the local paper, publish a picture of someone’s kid earning some kind of positive recognition.

That’s all been replaced by the Internet, where even now a lie seems to circulate faster than the truth, and personal belief becomes fact.

Newspapers used to be the watchdogs on government, but now that seems to apply only when government is in the hands of Republicans rather than Democrats, say some critics.

Now newspapers, unless they publish online editions, can’t keep up with the 24/7/365 cable networks that seem to far too many people to be more interested in being first than in being right.

Perhaps the day is approaching when there will be no more newspapers. Maybe it’s time.

But then how will people wrap fish? What will they put in the bottom of their bird cages? How will they start the evening fire?

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