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The year that newspaper died

Are they victims of the economy, changing consumer preferences in favor of new media, or their vile liberal bias?

The Minneapolis Star Tribune has filed for bankruptcy, becoming the latest newspaper to financially flame out under a heavy debt load and a punishing decline in advertising revenue.
The Star Tribune’s bankruptcy filing comes about a month after Tribune Co, publisher of two of the largest papers in the United States — the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune — filed for bankruptcy.

But the Strib is just the latest in a string of newspapers to run up a red flag.

Lee Enterprises Inc, publisher of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, faces a Friday deadline to work out its debt problems with its lenders.
EW Scripps Co could shut the Rocky Mountain News in Denver if it does not find a buyer soon, and Hearst Corp has said it might close the Seattle Post-Intelligencer if it does not find a buyer in the next two months.

In New York, the Times has mortgaged its headquarters, Detroit’s daily papers have stopped home delivery four days a week, and Gannett, the parent company of USA Today, cut 10% of its workforce in October and will force the remaining 90% to take an unpaid week of vacation.

While it’s tempting to blame the depression for the demise of these once-mighty daily papers, the down economy is just greasing the tracks for a ride the newspapers were already on. The trend began when 24-hour cable news offered an immediate, instant alternative to the dailies, and the decline of the newspaper accelerated with the arrival of new media news sites like Drudge and WorldNetDaily.

Successful news sites on the web indicate that a demand still exists for news and analysis in greater depth than the so-called cable news channels offer. Fox, CNN, MSNBC, and the newly rebranded HLN (formerly CNN Headline News) have degenerated into collections of tabloid talk shows, strung together by the ubiquitous crawl at the bottom of the screen in lieu of actual news coverage. Try to watch some actual news on the national networks in prime time now and you get O’Reilly, Campbell Brown, Keith Olbermann, or Nancy Grace.

Bleah. That’s why I get news off the web.

Big-city newspapers, in print form, are about to go the way of the newsreel. Papers in small and mid-size communities may survive a while longer, if only because readers actually know people in the stories — and because those papers are less likely to face competition from an online news site with a local focus.

Let’s face it: it’s a lot cheaper to publish (and broadcast–see my observations about the struggling radio industry) online.

It may not happen in 2009, despite the struggles of some of the biggest names in the newspaper business. Already, we’ve seen legislators argue that a government bailout of newspapers is in the public interest.

Hey, why not? The government owns our mortgages, banks, insurance companies, and automakers, so why not the newspapers, too? If nothing else, it will ensure that Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, who together have about ten times more listeners than the combined readership of the New York Times and the Washington Post, will always have a “mainstream” media to frighten their followers.

No, I don’t actually think the government will jump into the newspaper business. What will probably happen is quieter and more insidious: further consolidation of the major media. From

So conservatives, before gloating that the liberal media has been the instrument of its own demise, consider the impact. Fewer voices means less dissent, and that means greater government control even if actual ownership is retained by corporations. Time Warner, Disney, News Corporation, Bertelsmann A.G., Viacom (formerly CBS), and General Electric’s NBC — companies that together own and operate 90% of the mass media — gain nothing by rocking the boat.

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