Tough Love

Friday, July 18, 2008


It's no great mystery that newspapers are struggling with a near-apocalyptic business forecast. Most readers are settling for smaller papers, fewer reporters and less coverage. But Keith Hemstead is a newspaper reader who won't settle for less, and he's suing his paper to try and save it.

Comments [20]

David from Rhode Island

You said you doubt the issue would have been raised except for the lawsuit. Same thing, and a Google search would have told you quickly that the issue had been raised hundreds of times in much more appropriate forums. The fact that you and I personally might never have exchanged comments is pretty irrelevant.

Aug. 11 2008 01:32 PM

I didn't say that things were so much better when there were tons of resources for newspapers... don't have any objective evidence about that .... simply that decreasing resources to cover local news is heading in the wrong direction.

I also didn't say that the lawsuit was the only way to address this issue... just that it was apparently effective.

Aug. 06 2008 09:35 AM
David from Rhode Island

Well, I hardly know where to begin. For starters you act like it was so much better when there were tons of resources at the newspapers. In fact, there has always been lag times, many scandals only discovered years later, and people always try and manipulate the news. And I never said there was a decreased need for information, I said the newspapers need fewer resources overall to operate, just like many businesses, because of technology. A lot of these numbers as it applies to layoffs are not reporters. But some are, no doubt. Also, your analogy about criminals and the police is misapplied (not miss-applied). I would be willing to wager that the level of scandals or any other subject matter that goes into reporting is no less today that ion what some people seem to think was the "golden age" of newspapers. That was my point, although I grant i did not make that very clearly. I do, however, completely agree with you about this administration, it sickens me the way they operate. And I am a conservative (bet you didn't know that, lol).

But I most strongly disagree with your statement that the lawsuit is the only thing that got this subject noticed. It has been talked about many many times in various media before this suit. So again, no legal basis for the suit, wrong way to approach it.

Aug. 06 2008 08:53 AM

On a national level, It seems that hardly a day goes by without a fresh revelation about the lengths which the current administration was willing to go to manipulate... we are just now finding out about stuff that happened 3, 5, or 7 years ago.... Even if you assume that today we know everything there is to know, wouldn't it be preferable to not have such a lag time? Think of the lives and resources which have been just thrown away because the public didn't know enough to "scream" before going to war etc...

I happen to live in the same community as Keith. In the last few months in addition to the newspaper issue the city government has managed to take over public access television, an enormous potential asset to free speech. There are simply fewer and fewer options to "go someplace else".

I guess I could quit my job and try to play detective all day... but I don't think I would be any good at it... It seems to me that advanced civilizations are always based on a division of labor so everybody doesn't have to personally do everything.

So yes, I would agree that a law-suit is a pretty extreme measure... but I doubt if the issue would have been raised at all if he hadn't filed it... and for sure you and I would never have had the opportunity to have this conversation.... Hey, I guess that means that the law suit strategy worked!

Aug. 05 2008 05:57 PM

David: Wow... using the volume of recent scandals as evidence that the news system works strikes me as kinda bizarre logic. It like saying that since crime is trending up and the police already have caught a lot of criminals, we don't need to consider devoting as many resources to law enforcement in the future... the system obviously works!

Since we only know (or really can know) about the scandals that are uncovered by good reporting, it only stands to reason that there are more, (of some un-discovered quantity), which could or would be publicized if there were additional resources dedicated to exploring them.

The free market argument is just as miss-applied. If people are ill-informed, miss-informed or manipulated, how would they know when its time to "scream"? I would strongly disagree that the addition of new methods of communication means decreased "need" for information. A lot of what happens out here on the net is folks just sharing their thoughts, ideas, and opinions... sometimes with a remarkable void of actual facts. When it comes to a building an information foundation upon which to support public policy, that seems pretty shaky.

I don't think you give enough consideration to the fact that there are folks who willingly, purposefully, and effectively, manipulate the content and flow of information for their own purposes.... In fact, isn't that exactly why there are so many scandals lately?

Aug. 05 2008 05:55 PM
David from Rhode Island

Seriously, you ask "Can this have any other than a negative effect on our communities?". Well, yes. Getting our news in the way the people are willing to support it is very positive. I think anyone that thinks there is a lack of local (or national) accountability has not been paying attention to the numerous scandals, etc. that get discovered on all levels. With the efficiency of communications and other trends that are going on, there simply is not the same need for as many people as there used to be. This is true in many businesses, and newspapers are no exception. I truly believe that something as fundamentally important as this, if people felt they were not getting what they needed, they would be screaming. But, for example, I have 2 small local papers that cover my small part of Rhode Island, already a small state, and then there is the larger Providence Journal. I suspect other areas are very similar.

Aug. 02 2008 10:41 AM
David from Rhode Island

Gordon - I enjoyed your comment (not being sarcastic, either). I completely agree a diligent and free press is absolutely needed for democracy to flourish. And I think we will always have it as long as we protect free speech in general. But I disagree that a lawsuit is the way to bring attention to the matter. The court system is already abused enough, and I cannot see how there is any basis for a customer of the paper to tell them how to run their business. That would be like me suing WalMart or any other store because I think they don't have enough customer service people, or stock boys, or anything else. If I don't like it, I go somewhere else. I have that option with news also. If I find there is no good alternative, I can start my own, if I feel that strongly about it. If enough people feel the same as I do about it, I will be successful and democracy will be saved. LOL.

Aug. 02 2008 10:40 AM

Its possible that Mr. Hempstead's point is being missed.

I think he may have simply wished to draw attention to the fact that more and more newspapers are lessening resources dedicated to the coverage of local events.

Can this have any other than a negative effect on our communities?

In the absence of objective local coverage it becomes easy for actual reporting to be replaced by simply publishing the press-releases of those who have an interest in shaping public opinion. Without a functioning local press, there is virtually no opportunity for the public to hold their local government, business, or anyone in any position of power, accountable. That is truly scary...

The lawsuit itself is not the point. The lawsuit is simply a tool to focus attention on the issue. Constitutional interpretations aside, the real question is: Can democracy or freedom itself ever flourish in the absence of a diligent and free press?

Likewise, I don't think it is incumbent upon Mr Hempstead to propose a successful alternative business model in order to earn the right to raise this issue any more than I should be required to have a proven plan before I can legitimately advocate for universal health coverage.

Mr. Hempstead is just reminding us how important a local press really is.

Just maybe we are becoming so used to settling for less, instead of demanding more, that we hardly even notice or care anymore when we lose something of value.

Jul. 30 2008 05:41 PM
David from Rhode Island

But your biggest howler is that we suffer from a restricted range of opinion. That one comment negates any credibility you might otherwise have. This OTM story might have been about a newspaper, but you cannot discuss the media in a vacuum. Many decisions that have been made by courts and agencies are based on exactly the fact that there is such a huge range of options for getting news and opinions. We certainly don't need to enact any more idiotic policies.

Jul. 30 2008 08:55 AM
David from Rhode Island

Well Mr. Brody, your comments in response are far more reasoned than your original posting. But it is not consistent with your original posting either, and doesn't address much of my comments on your "points". As a minor point, to get it out of the way, NPR and PBS only get 15% now, but not that long ago it was much more. But why should they get anything? Anyway, read the first amendment again: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

They shall make no law abridging the freedom of the press. How do you twist that into that we are guaranteed a press at all? That is like saying we are guaranteed religion, by the same logic. If we all became atheists tomorrow, you think they would have to go out and force it to happen anyway? It is silly to think there won't be a press, but again it is not the government's role to make sure there is a press, only that no government agency muzzles whatever press does exist in any way.

Jul. 30 2008 08:48 AM
Yosef Brody

In contrast to what you have been led to believe, David, the press was actively subsidized in the early years of the US with printing and postal subsidies (the latter of which continue to this day) because of the importance the founders placed on making sure a wide range of opinion was in the ring. Today, we suffer from a restricted range of opinion. As for the radio and TV airwaves, they were originally publicly-owned and were commercialized only after private corporations got monopoly licenses as a gift from policymakers, despite a huge fight from citizens who wanted more democratic control over the news media. By the way, renewal of those licenses is supposed to depend on serving the public interest, which many many people think they're not. And as for NPR and PBS, they get only 15% of their $$ from the government and their overall journalistic perspective is largely commercial and hardly outside the mainstream. Similarly, the internet was developed completely outside the market, it's a public good, just like TV and the radio are legally supposed to be. The internet's future as a democratic tool depends on what kind of policy Congress and the FCC end up deciding on. *SUPPORT NET NEUTRALITY*

But as for newspapers-- since that's what this is supposed to be about-- we need to enact policies that diversify ownership and put the public's interest for deep journalism above commercialism.

Jul. 29 2008 02:06 PM
Yosef Brody

David, thanks for your response. We obviously disagree, but more importantly, many of the facts you're basing your opinion on are inaccurate. I want to respond to all your points on freedom of the press, for-profit vs. publicly-subsidized journalism, and what the founders intended.

I don't think for-profit journalism is automatically unconstitutional, but we do have a constitutional right to a free press, and a focus on commercialism over investigative journalism puts the health and strength of our democracy into serious question. I do in fact think we are being denied the right to a free press due to super-accelerated media consolidation. Since the founders, especially Madison and Jefferson, realized that democracy needs a free press in order to breathe, the First Amendment was seen at the time as a way to protect dissident political opinion, since the press was much more openly partisan back then. Today, a small handful of men own all major newspapers in the country. Dissident political opinions are squeezed out and commercialism is, as they so, the bottom line.

Jul. 29 2008 12:38 PM
so-called "Austin Mayor" from CHicagoland

Is a copy of the complaint available online?

People in similar circumstances might find it worth taking a look at.

-- -- SCAM
so-called "Austin Mayor"

Jul. 23 2008 10:31 AM
Brazil Tony from new york

They are destroying their principle [sic] product? By hiring people who can't spell?

Jul. 22 2008 06:38 PM
Brazil Tony

They are destroying their "principal product" not their "principle product". Probably by hiring people who can't spell.

Jul. 22 2008 06:35 PM
Willem Vanden Broek, J.D., Ph.D. from Ann Arbor, MI

I would have liked to hear a bit more from this big-think lawyer about what business model he thinks will work, the specifics of what he would propose during this confab with management or in the OpEd that is given as the real payoff for his effort. Is he saying that they're making it OK as it is? I suppose it's hard to get down to specifics in broadcast journalism. We hear on this program over and over both that the newspaper business is in crisis but also that it is still a very profitable business. I need more than that if I am to make sense of this contradiction, if sense is possible.

Jul. 22 2008 02:16 PM
David from Rhode Island

And by the way, Mr. Brody needs to brush up on his constitution. We are not guaranteed a press at all, we are only guaranteed that whatever press we have will be free to publish without censorship from government. And we are being denied that right? Please Mr. Brody, turn on your brain. The "press" does not mean just newspapers; it is television, radio, the web, etc. Unconstitutional to make a profit? Take some history courses. The newspapers were for profit when the constitution was written. You don't think the Founders knew that? The alternative is to have a government funded press. Now THAT would be unconstitutional. NPR and PBS are probably unconstitutional, but we will tolerate it because they are a drop in the ocean of the FREE PRESS we do have.

Sorry if this came across as invective, but it is exactly that kind of unbelievable drivel that screws up the politics of this country sometimes.

Jul. 20 2008 03:49 PM
David from Rhode Island

Talk about the cure being worse than the disease! More lawsuits, just what we need. It is another classic example of mushy liberal thinking. Hemstead ignores the fact that revenues were shrinking all the while the papers were employing the additional people. It is akin to saying that we should keep employing everyone in the buggy whip industry while the country is only buying cars. I noticed he has no answer for how they should make money, he just wants them to fiddle while Rome burns.

If there is a need for news (and of course there always will be, just like there was a continuing need for transportation), there will be options based on quality, need, willingness to pay, etc. It is called a marketplace. I would just think after all the history of people predicting apocalyptic results because what they are comfortable with is changing, and it not coming true, they would learn.

Jul. 20 2008 03:39 PM
E. Ledesma from Rialto, CA

I applaud Mr. Hemstead, at least he is trying to get the 'powers that be' at his newspaper to sit up and take notice. I have watched both of our local daily newspapers go down the drain over the last few years. Canceling my subscription would not even be noticed by the newspaper's editor.

Why do I hang on, reading the newspaper with my morning coffee on the patio is a ritual. Somehow sitting in front of the computer going from website to website just isn't the same, its more frenetic, disjointed and too demanding of my total attention. There is breathing room when you read a newspaper. Thank you OTM for another interesting story and your great podcasts.

Jul. 20 2008 12:11 AM
Yosef Brody from Paris, France

Great idea, but the reasoning needs reworking. A free press is a constitutional right and required for democracy, and we as citizens are being denied that right. In contrast to what Mr. Hemsptead is saying, McClatchy's product is not news, it's advertising. Like other U.S. media companies, they sell audiences to advertisers, this is the primary means of income. So their business model, that of cutting journalists and resources in order to ensure greater profit, is perfectly sound. What is not sound, and may be unconstitutional, is a profit-based model of communications that is failing at providing citizens information they need to know in order to govern themselves.
Thank you OTM for this story and all your hard work.
Y. Brody

Jul. 19 2008 07:05 AM

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