The Death of Newspapers

Newspapers are dying. The drum-beat goes on. Some readers are worried; others think their time has already passed. Yet another major city is threatened with the loss of all newspapers. Another newspaper cuts staff and sections to the bone. Book reviews are cut; business news is shortened; advertising revenues are plummeting.

In the meantime, I keep reading my local newspaper and the major daily paper in the state, and I notice things. The local paper trumpets its awards, and it has won a great number. So why does scarcely a day go by without a misspelled headline? In fact, the lead headline last Saturday read: “Mountain of Dept Faces US.” If this is an award-winning local daily paper, I shudder to think about those that aren’t. And why are all the “national” and “state” stories a day behind the large state newspaper? Why do all the major local scandals never make the local paper, but appear in the state paper?

As for the major paper, it’s scarcely much better. Almost never does the weather section appear without errors. On Sunday, the weather temperatures predicted for the next two days — by town statewide — were listed as Thursday and Friday. On Saturday, the next two days were Monday and Tuesday. The lead headline the other day began “An State Issue…” Oh?

In both papers, syntax and grammar errors appear regularly, yet I can remember when it was rare to find these kinds of errors in newspapers, as opposed to being so common that any issue offers plenty of examples. These problems don’t even take into account the quality of reporting and the choice of stories. The lieutenant governor of the state — soon to become governor — appeared at a national meeting of governors and made comments that indicated that he knew nothing about the global warming issue — right after listening to [or at least sitting through] a speech on the issue by Dr. Stephen Chu, the U.S. Secretary of Energy… and the only story that appeared was days later in a political commentary story. One Utah author won a Newberry medal, and while it merited a TV news story, it never appeared in the paper, while a story about an author who wrote a novel about a platonic affair between a married Mormon woman and a British actor was a feature article. Unhappily, what I’ve seen here in Utah seems also to be happening in other locales, if perhaps not so egregiously.

Might a certain lack of quality have something to do with the decline of newpapers… or is it that the decline of advertising revenue means that newspapers are both understaffed and with fewer and fewer true professionals? Either way, it’s a sad situation.