Open Season

Did you see this on The Daily Beast? David Simon, genius creator of The Wire, gave an interview to the Guardian lamenting the dire straits of the newspaper industry.

Oh, to be a state or local official in America over the next 10 to 15 years, before somebody figures out the business model,’ says Simon, a former crime reporter for the Baltimore Sun. ‘To gambol freely across the wastelands of an American city, as a local politician! It’s got to be one of the great dreams in the history of American corruption.’”

Y’all know I loved The Wire, so perhaps you’ll take this with a grain of salt, but I’ve gotta go with Simon on this. The egregious suits behind this country’s newspapers have really done this to themselves. They had to get bigger and bigger, and own more and more papers, sacrificing quality along the way, until they had a crisis on their hands. Every time they’re faced with declining profits (in an industry that remains profitable), they go to cutbacks, sacrificing more quality and expertise. I’m going to say it again with the Wall St. Journal backing me up: newspapers are still very profitable and certainly can look forward to staying that way. As investment banker and media specialist Jonathan Knee says,

You have to focus on your competitive advantage, which is local. When the smoke clears, the local newspaper, which may not be the sexiest part of the newspaper industry but is overwhelmingly the largest and most profitable part of the industry, will be a smaller and more-focused enterprise whose activities will be directed to those areas where their local presence gives them competitive advantage and they will continue to generate as a result better profits than the supersexy businesses in the media industry asking for government or nonprofit help like movies and music.”

That’s awesome. Not only because he used the word “supersexy” (though that would be reason enough), but also because it’s a strong dose of reality. There’s plenty of money in newspapers, if they’re managed well. Good newspapers have good journalists working for them, meaning you can’t stay good if you fire or buy out all your knowledgeable writers. Are you listening, McClatchy? Don’t keep gutting the N&O and the Observer, North Carolina can’t afford it. What would this place – with its seamy lottery, its unreliable probation system, and its nightmarish mental health system – look like if authorities knew no one was watching? I don’t want to find out.

2 Comments

  1. AdamL

    March 28, 2009 at 5:35 pm

    Well said.

    Of course, McClatchy is in a bind because it has large debt payments and it’s a public company, which means that its current profitability is less important than shareholders feeling secure that the newspaper chain will grow and prosper in the future.

    For us on the ground that means more cuts at the paper and more companies and public institutions escaping public scrutiny.

  2. that guy

    March 30, 2009 at 9:07 am

    It seems to me that with the advent of the blog and alternative media, that muckrakers will find a way, even as print media becomes less dominant.