Newspaper Guy Worried That Fewer Voices Are Heard Today; Apparently He's Never Been Online

from the what-world-is-he-living-in? dept

Last year we were stunned after reading about a proposal from an old school journalist that newspapers should get government subsidies. The idea was so preposterous, we had figured it wouldn’t get very far, but apparently others in the industry are still thinking the same way. Frank Blethen, president of The Seattle Times Company, is now suggesting that newspapers run by companies are not a good idea and the government should offer tax credits to newspapers. On top of that he states (with a straight face, we believe): “The question should really be not what is happening to the poor companies, it should be what public policy do we need – including subsidies – to ensure we have a variety of voices or a variety of models.”

What’s amazing is how that single sentence shows not just what he’s asking for, but why he thinks he needs government support: because he’s completely blind to what’s happening in the real media world around him. When you can’t see what’s happening in your very own market, perhaps it’s no surprise that you’d ask the government to bail you out. However, his statements are wrong in so many ways. First, there’s no shortage of “voices” out there today. In fact, there are more voices than at any time in history — and it’s in spite of the newspapers, not because of them. Newspapers are still focused on believing they’re the voice, rather than enabling that “variety of voices.” The very reason newspapers are in trouble these days is because others were able to enable the voices, while newspapers held steadfastly to a model that just doesn’t work.

And, no, government support won’t help. Putting people in charge who recognize how people consume news these days is all that’s needed. All Blethen has done with his statement is shown that he doesn’t understand his own market, is unwilling to change and wants to blame everyone else for his own failings — and, because of that, wants taxpayers to bail him out for his own mistakes. No wonder newspapers like his are having trouble. Meanwhile, plenty of news venues are thriving. But to do so, you have to stop thinking of yourself as a newspaper of ten, or even five, years ago. Unfortunately for the Seattle Times, it doesn’t appear its leadership is able to do that.

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Comments on “Newspaper Guy Worried That Fewer Voices Are Heard Today; Apparently He's Never Been Online”

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Pete Valle (user link) says:

Newspapers need to evolve

Newspapers need to realize they need to evolve with the times or risk becoming obsolete.

I spent two years as the technology and telecommunications reporter of a local business newspaper. During those years, I constantly pressed my editors to add more online content, like a blog, and get more with the times, with small things like adding the reporters’ email address with their byline and expanding the technology coverage. I also saw that we had the opportunity, and the infrastructure in place, to have a completely online edition of our paper without much effort.

While some of my suggestions were taken, like adding the email address, others were either ignored or badly implemented. My editors didn’t (and still don’t) see the value of new models in order to reach new audiences in a changing world. While I tried to push hard for change, I was often ignored.

The end result is that, when I left, they didn’t even hire a replacement for my position and they currently lack a technology reporter. One of my two weekly columns died and the remaining one, while its being written by a good friend who is an excellent writer, has been savaged and ignored so horribly by editors it pains me to read it. The blog I tried so hard to get online is there, but mostly unused and ignored by the editors. And they came up with the wonderful idea of adding online content only a week after it had been published, and now they are discussing whether to charge for it. Brilliant.

Most of my contacts have told me they have simply stopped reading the paper. If the editors of this and other papers don’t see the future, I suspect many other readers will follow.

Iron Chef says:

Re: I keep asking my wife...

…who subscribes to the Seattle Times, “Why do you keep paying for two day old news printed on paper?”

Apparently they aren’t learning from the PI. PI is all over Google News… Sometimes The Post makes it, but for every Seattle Times article, I run across 3 PI articles.

Maybe it’s different execution styles. Feel free to stop by for dinner. I have a grill. What else is needed?

Jake says:

Whilst there are arguments in favour of government-funded (but not government-controlled) media outlets, the need to preserve ‘a variety of models and a variety of voices’ isn’t one of them; models that no longer work can be quite adequately preserved in Economic Theory 101 textbooks and there are more competing voices available for public edification than anyone could ever possibly need or want.

bobbknight says:


Other Peoples Money:

Did this crap start with, Chrysler or the savings and loan scandal?
All I know is that bailing out anyone or thing with taxpayer money is just a bad idea.

Dead tree media is just that dead, quit putting it on life support and calling it vibrant.

PBS does not need taxpayer money, let the fancy pants who watch it, pay for it. Or put a VAT on Elmo dolls.

I'm Not a Bubba (user link) says:


I could not agree more #1. Daily papers just don’t get it because they have been writing their stories the old fashioned way for so long they just cannot think outside the box. They are afraid of anything new and are generally not willing to venture in to the light. Alternative newsweeklies are far more interested in newer tech and more likely to report on things of interest IMHO than the big daily papers anyhow. A fine example is they have always been leading the pack when it comes to new tech and continue to do so. Not only has their website traffic grown by several hundred percent in the past 2 or 3 years, but because of their involvement and online marketing savvy, their print product is booming as well, and this is in the ultra conservative state of Utah!!!
So I say boo to the Seattle Times Company. How dare you dance with the enemy? When you could just step outside your little self imposed box and be successful?

Vulgorilla says:


Just what we need …. Government tax supported propaganda rags.

The news consuming public has already figured out today’s newspapers by canceling subscriptions right and left – They don’t report the news, they fabricate it to suit their far left-wing political agendas. Now that the public doesn’t want them, we should be forced to support them through tax dollars?

While this whole idea sounds absurd, it wouldn’t be at all surprising if our current crop of legislators (read unconvicted felons) went for it like a fish to water.

Heaven help us all …

Chris says:

Wow. The news is there for a reason

Nobody here is recognizing the thing that media outlets do well.

The fact of the matter is that in any system where people are trying to spread information there will always be people who are trying to abuse the system. If you rely solely on bloggers and locals to report the news there are a number of ways that the news becomes entirely useless.

First off the issues that are important to the people who care the most become highlighted when they shouldn’t. Despite the fact that my point might be attacked, assume there exists some news that one side of a heated argument such as pro-life vs pro-choice comes out, that news will be headline in rss feeds and on blogs that are read, while it might be a 5th page article in a paper that is reporting news that matters more. The squeaky wheel gets the grease so to speak.

Secondly. The media has a job of filtering false reports. The government lies. It is their job to lie, to save themselves from various things, but the media is supposed to report the truth and do investigative reporting. The voices that are heard on the internet are often just repeating what they have heard which is clearly biased, or are promoting their own agenda. The media outlets of recent times have fallen into a bias because they are forced to attempt to fit into their viewers ideals. See fox news getting much higher ratings because people agree without thinking. Ideally there would be government subsidies for reporting that actually reports the truth, unfortunately that type of reporting isnt supported at all by the government.

The last but certainly not least important point I have is that people are assuming that the news is reported fairly and evenly by people on the internet. This assumption is either ahead or behind the times, but is most certainly not representative on any measure. In a number of countries the only way to get unhindered access to the internet is through the government, (ie china, iran, saudi arabia) in places like this the news that gets put on the internet not only has a bias, it also has an agenda, and anybody that reads this news and thinks it is a good primary source has not done their homework. Which is why media outlets and newspapers and CNN should exist to make sure that “fair and balanced” reporting is taking place. It is not fair to regions where internet usage is restricted to a subset of the population, or at least internet usage in terms of reporting news, to take the news that they report as honest and complete coverage. Imagine for example the serbia kosovo conflict of the 90s, if the internet had been the dominant news outlet for that era, there wouldnt have been any uproar or any dispute, because the controlling party would have completely controlled the information that was leaving the area.

News is necessary. A filter of some form is required to make sure that useless news that is strongly supported by the few does not make headlines while making sure that smaller news that is attempting to be suppressed by those in power does not get completely hidden from view.

Ajax 4Hire (profile) says:

Already have government sponsered news

It is called NPR (National Public Radio).

Yes I know it is not as government sponsored as it use to be but it still gets its money from the Federal Government.

I do not believe NPR would last Unshackled from the support of government subsidies. I know I have grown tired of this Federal mouthpiece and I would be quite upset with the Federal Government of the US using my, yes MY tax dollars for yet another social experiment like a crucifix in a beaker of urine.

I am NOT saying that such things should be banned,
I am saying “don’t force me to pay for your viewpoint or broadcast”

Anonymous Coward says:

Vulgorilla are you on crack? Since when has any media corp been left wing. Damn their propaganda seems to be working.

Think about about it…big business supports starting wars over fictional information in order to win non bid contracts from their right wing unconvicted criminals in office. Who reported about WMDs without any sort of fact checking? Who did shit to report the whole current administrations crimes…but spends pages on Britney Spears? Do we hear anything but token news on the war? Where are all the bloody gory pictures and images we saw during Vietnam?


Anonymous Coward says:

@Ajax 4Hire

god forbid we get news from someone other then CNN

NPR does quite well and provides services to many useful people

if we can WASTE what 3 trillion dollars now? On policing other people and fictional WMD and lose half of that money without account the government can pay for some measly talk radio. When newspapers actually report news and not just bullshit then we can talk about comparing the two.

Anne (profile) says:

RIP Print Newspapers, Travel Agents and Buggy Whip Manufacturers

I’d bury the traditional newspaper publishers in the same grave with the travel agents. Now I listen to nightly podcasts of CBC news and my Google home page gives me the one-line summaries of major US, Canadian and international newspapers, as well as the BBC, Time and Newsweek stories of the day.

The worst mistake the Los Angeles Times ever made was selling out to the Tribune Company in Chicago. The page-one content shifted to stories about life in the Midwest, and the essence of what made the Times a great newspaper was gone forever. I cancelled my subscription eight years ago and have no intention of ever starting it up again.

There is a correlation between the arrogance of newspaper publishers and the you can’t live without us attitude of travel agents. It used to be that travelers were at the mercy of the travel agents, snooty b–es who controlled the keys to the kingdom. For more than twelve years now, I’ve booked and researched my own travel and wouldn’t go back to a travel agent any more than I would go back to being a print LA Times subscriber.

Shohat says:

People who want to make a change, don't blog

Here’s an update : the entire political influence of the entire internet is about the same as a small news channel. Internet has only hurt the amount of real voices we hear, because now, people who could have made a difference by actually protesting, burning tires and marching in the streets, just sit at home and type away furiosly. And who reads them? The same people who support them in the first place.
Yes, internet is a great way to keep activists happy and busy while the world is changed by other people, who actually make a difference. Good example is the US in the last 8 years, and especially the recent Ron Paul online meme.

* Miss Universe (user link) says:

Video News and Breaking Updates Give Web the Advantage

Newspapers are great for reading while commuting.

Although online news and hard copy news have text and photographs – it is the video advantage that gives the web the advantage, as well as breaking updates and social site coverage.

Any news organization dependent on governmental subsidies to survive will be compromised in their enthusiasm to report corruption or criticize the status quo

Daniel says:

echo chamber

When he says that we need more voices in the news, he’s echoing (ironically enough) a study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism that found that while there are more outlets online now than ever before, they’re not producing original content most of the time. What they’re doing is creating that echo-chamber effect we’re all familiar with in blogs.

Blogs are often very good, but they tend to work better at OpEd reporting than investigative journalism.

I think this guy has a fair point insofar as the government should subsidize investigative journalism. The BBC does pretty well and is able to produce good news in part because it’s not beholden exclusively to ratings. John Stewart was right on the money when he pointed out that the news media in the U.S. now blows because it’s always looking towards the ratings.

Enrico Suarve says:

Re: echo chamber

“The BBC does pretty well and is able to produce good news”

From someone who lives in the UK and watches BBC news all the time, I am unfortunatly able to tell you that the BBC (especially News 24) rarely does little more then scratch the surface of most important stories

Having experienced both I can agree with you and Mr Stewart that the media in the U.S. blows, however, but you need to be aiming higher than the BBC. Personally I think the whole news anchor going “live to our man on the scene” format may be just as broken as their paper based friends

I want the in depth pieces I only seem to get from printed newspapers in the UK (preferably from 2 or more writers whoose opinions don’t necesarily agree) but I want it online and immediatly available

I read and subscribe to a lot of blogs and whilst most people here seem to think they are the best source of news going, I would not want to have to rely on them alone. Daniel’s right, most of the time for at least the big stories, they are little more than opinion pieces based on stories broken by newspapers and TV reporters. Blogs have a place but breaking sotries is not usually one of them

Where do people think the initial story or break going to come from without the papers? TV companies would only really have each other to compete with. Given Fox’s now legendary levels of dumbed downness thats very few competitors, you start to get closer to the joke about the hunters “I don’t need to outrun the lion – I just need to outrun you”

I’m likewise not convinced about the practicality of subsidising papers. In reality although well-meaning this is likely to turn into effective censorship, a government who can mix works to declassify waterboarding as torture, should have no problems telling papers that “their kind of news isn’t news” and therefore not subsidise-able…

Sorry for the rambling nature of this comment – just my thoughts as they rolled out

Jake says:

Re: Re: echo chamber

The BBC’s a lot better than some, mind you; their current affairs programmes have been going downhill lately –Panorama especially- but at least they’re there; even Channel 4 seems to be going down the lowest common denominator route these days.
It seems to me that if there’s one problem with instant on-demand news round the clock, it’s the need to fill the airwaves with something, no matter how inane or badly-researched; a lot of the traditional seem to be trying to compete with Slashdot and the bloggers on their own terms, when the smart thing to do would be to provide more measured and informed reporting after they’ve sifted through the dross thrown up by the rumour mill, with opinion pieces sourced exclusively from people who know what the hell they’re talking about. It’s like how the BBC used to advertise its Teletext service; one of them was ‘At Speed’, the other was ‘In Depth’. And dear God that dates me a bit, doesn’t it?

stark.raver says:


I can’t believe any of you want government subsidies for newspapers. Oh well, you socialists always want money from us for your crap. Someone said bbc in a serious manner. Get real, I watch the bbc and cnn and it seems government funded and sponsor funded news agencies tend to swing left. The bbc is horrible.

Investigative journalism needs to be government funded? Get real. You think it is fair that those little marxists should take control of thought. Make no mistake, the government would like nothing more than to fund newspapers. Most newspaper reporters are socialists, imagine how they would write knowing that they need to keep democrats in power to stay in business. I say they need democrats because only socialists would be willing to fund them.

Anonymous Coward says:

The Seattle times already shills for the local and state governments so much that it’s completely natural for the times to want a little payola in return.

The times is famous for sitting on a story until some other outlet (talk radio, blog, tv news, etc.) hammers the story so hard that they have no option but to write a story about it.

The times might make a more convincing argument if they weren’t already shilling for the government for free.

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