Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Demise of the Daily Newspaper

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer is being sold by the Hearst Corporation after the paper lost $14 million last year. If no one buys the paper in the next 60 days, Hearst will stop publishing the paper and may turn it into an Internet only newspaper. Such a move most likely means huge staff cuts.

The Cincinnati Post went through this last year. The only remaining paper, the Cincinnati Enquirer cut a large portion of its staff late last year. It also reduced the size of the newspaper due to dwindling advertising revenue. The Dayton Daily News reduce its size and content a few years ago to where it more resembles a local neighborhood paper instead of a daily newspaper.

The Internet seems to be taking the place with more news outlets choosing to amp-up their websites. Websites a cheaper to maintain versus publishing a daily newspaper. They require less staff and virtually no logistical support.

I read several different news sites and blogs each day, as well as running my own. My own observations lead to believe that as we lose daily newspapers, we also lose local perspectives. To some extent, this is being picked-up by bloggers but only to a point. A blog is a reflection of that individuals views with no editor to keep the author on point. Newspapers, the New York Times not withstanding, tried to provide some oversight and accountability of their writers. A blogger chooses which topics he or she wants to write about. A journalist would be assigned a topic and then have to go out and write about it. The journalist would have to write pieces that sold copy. A blogger wrties for themselves.

Issues regarding the safety and well being of the community would be covered in the local sections of the daily newspaper. As more newspapers turn to the Internet, I wonder if some of this won’t be lost in the interest of pursuing more viewers who aren’t local? Crime will always be a big seller but what about the more mundane issues like public utilities? Local politicians, not just state and federal, are beginning to run their own blogs to get the word out. While hearing the thoughts of an elected official are good, the problem is balance. All sides of the issue need to be heard, not just the ones with blogs or websites.

I started reflecting on this lack of balance over the nomination by President-elect Obama for Leon Panetta to run the CIA. Diane Feinstein thinks Panetta lacks the intelligence experience to run the CIA (although she has softened her tone recently). The Internet news site were having a field day that Feinstein, a Democrat like the President-elect, would be so publicly against his nomination. Now as Feinstein’s opposition to Panetta has softened, now the Internet sites are beginning to changes their opinion about the Panetta nomination. What I’ve not seen in all of this is much analysis of what role the CIA needs to play in the future.

Eight years ago, it was pointed out that the CIA had failed to pick up on the plans for the attack on 9-11. Calls were for the agency to re-establish its neglected human intelligence network (spies) to better prevent future terrorist attacks. As a former USAF intelligence analyst, I can tell you overhead sensors can only do so much. You still need people to alert you as the intentions of your enemy.

Certainly Mr. Panetta lacks experience in clandestine agencies, which causes one to conclude he may lack an appreciation for what the CIA can do. He is an outsider and may lack the ability to win over the trust of his staff (who by nature are secretive and suspicious of everyone who isn’t a professional “spook”). President George H. Bush was selected to run the agency with an equal lack of intelligence experience. By most accounts, the elder Bush was quite effective as CIA Director. Back then, the Soviet Union still existed and was the number one reason for the CIA’s existence. Now there isn’t a unilateral threat and the role of the CIA is less defined.

All of this points to some decided gaps in information out there about what the President-elect is thinking. Some assumptions can be made from other appoints, such as Governor Napolitano to DHS, but assumptions can get you into trouble. Internet articles tend to repeat what another site has already reported. A lack of in-depth reporting makes it difficult to know if Mr. Panetta’s selection is based on future role for the CIA or, as it appears, merely a political appointment that at least initially did not appear controversial.

If something as important as the nomination of CIA Director only receives the typical Internet syndrome of repeated headlines, what chance does a local issue have? I submit it is arrogant to think “everyone” has access to the Internet. As newspapers continue to convert to electronic format, some readers will be left out. If newspapers can’t sell in larger markets, imagine what happens in smaller towns. Newspapers are published only two or three times a week. If those papers become Internet only, will they serve the same readers?

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