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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Liberal media?

One of the best ways to see how the media is NOT liberal is to take a look at its business practices.

The ultimate read is Ben Bagdikian's frequently updated look at The Media Monopoly (at latest count five corporations (Time Warner, Disney, Murdoch's News Corporation, Bertelsmann of Germany, and Viacom (formerly CBS) own most of the newspapers, magazines, books, radio and TV stations, and movie studios of the United States).

But the New York Times takes a pretty good look at the state of affairs in newspapers today and sheds a little light on a dirty secret -- industry profit margins. (Little because the reference is buried deep in Kit Seelye's story.)

Yes, there are real problems on the industry's doorstep because of the decline in traditional advertising and the soaring cost of old technology.

But here is the blunt truth: The Times, which owns the Boston Globe; Knight-Ridder, which runs the Philadelphia Inquirer; and the Tribune Co., which owns the LA Times, are putting newspaper jobs on the chopping block because the corporate leaders are having a hard time meeting the 20 percent margins expected by Wall Street. Gannett has been doing this for years too. Name a top-drawer Gannett paper?

None of this is new. It doesn't get covered by newspapers (who like to think that no one is interested in "inside baseball"). But it is starting to reach a more critical mass because cuts are starting to make a difference in the quality of the papers -- and because the web is a growing force in news.

The Globe and Inquirer are good examples. Previous rounds of cuts (achieved in large measure by buy-out deals) has decimated some sections of the paper and the rebuilding process has been slow. The Health/Science section, for example, lost top performers like Larry Tye, Richard Saltus, David Chandler and Judy Foreman to buyouts several years ago. The new blood, while talented, cannot replace that level of institutional memory and beat knowledge.

While I don't see it anywhere near as often, the Inquirer, once a formidable player under Gene Roberts, is a sorry shell of itself.

The Globe compounds its problems because, unlike the Times and the Washington Post, it has failed to embrace the concept of a universal news desk, combining print and online staffs to deliver round-the-clock reports from their best staff. The Globe's inability to take advantage of the web's vast platform to deliver depth to their reporting is sad.

One small example: how much effort would it take for a newspaper that prided itself on being a paper of record on Massachusetts government, to keep online tabs of the campaign finance accounts and voting records of the Legislature or a pull tighter leash on the rhetoric versus reality of Mitt's promises?

A liberal media, which by definition of the Theocons is a crusading, biased army of lefty zealots, is an impossibility in a business operated by a cartel that sacrifices news hole for shareholder return and discourages the hard-headed, take no prisoners (on the right OR left) reporting that existed once upon time.

Newsprint may indeed eventually be good only for fishwrap. But the technology is not there yet (or this) to make print mobile (there are some places laptops are not supposed to go!) By the time the technology does reach the point where newspaper journalism can be delivered anywhere, its audience is likely to have died out.


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