The needler in the haystack.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Paying more for less. Much less.

For Plainfield's hard-news freaks (count me in), the times are hard.

And getting harder.

This morning, I was startled from my autopilot newspaper ramble when the clerk said, "That'll be $3." Up from last Friday's $2.75.

For what?

The Courier News has joined the Star-Ledger with a 75¢ cover price for the daily paper.

In the A section, Page One had four area stories (including Plainfield's first homicide of 2009, above the fold, thank you!), and page 3 had three, all by staff reporters. The rest of the section had 6 AP stories and 2 from USA Today.

The Star-Ledger disappoints in its own unique way.

Monday's edition comes in four sections, of which hard news is only in the first section.

Page One has 3 stories by Ledger reporters, plus Bob Braun's column. Page 3 has a Newark story by a Ledger reporter. The balance of the section has 1 Jersey Journal story, 7 AP stories, a global roundup with 6 items from unidentified wire sources, and a New Jersey roundup of 4 items from unidentified sources (including the Plainfield homicide).

The news business is in tough times.

Gannett, the Courier's parent company, recently avoided being downgraded to 'junk bond' status -- just barely (see here).

The Star-Ledger, once the darling of the Newhouse publishing empire (with Plainfield connections, yet) is said to have lost $40M last year, precipitating the nasty buyout which has decimated its reportorial staff -- both news and columns (see here).

A recent OpEd by the New Jersey ACLU in Editor And Publisher (see here) sums up the effects of all this quite succinctly --
The people of New Jersey rely on reporters to let us know what is going on and use that information to form opinions, take action and determine how they want to vote. Reporters sit as our proxies and do our homework, attending council meetings until 2 a.m. They uncover political corruption and work with whistleblowers to release information that can protect the public. They put pressure on officials simply by doing their jobs, compelling our leaders to fix their mistakes.

Reporters bring important issues into the public square. Sometimes the press ignites a fire from a nonprofit’s fuel, and sometimes organizations discover new causes to rally behind because of a paper’s reporting. ...

Without paid reporters on the ground it’s almost impossible to hold our government accountable. While the prospect of having no one to look over their shoulders anymore could make a New Jersey politician or two giddy, it’s at the public’s expense. ...

With an even smaller number of overworked reporters forced to cut corners, more and more, our news sources only scratch the surface. Participatory democracy is much weaker without people who have the time and expertise to sniff out stories, wait out meetings and bring out credible information. ...

A vacuum in the newspaper industry sucks away democracy. Television news specializes in the sound bite. Bloggers specialize in commentary and speed. And newspapers specialize in the original reporting that governments, other reporters -- including bloggers -- and society rely on to understand the inner workings of government.
This blogger says 'Amen' to all that, and thinks that bloggers help by complementing the print media, not supplanting it.

As coverage of local politics thins more and more (the Plainfields have been lucky so far that the Courier still dedicates resources in a way the Ledger no longer does), the public is less well-served, though asked to pickup more of the tab left over from the disappearing ad sales.

And for this retiree, trying to get by on a meager pension and Social Security, the prospect of shelling out $102 a month for print editions of the Courier, the Ledger and the NYTimes is giving me deep pause.

What are your thoughts on this business? Log a comment!

-- Dan Damon

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olddoc said...

Before the recent reincarnation of the Courier and its reinvention as a local interest newspaper I ws contemplating canceling my subscription to a "rag". After all the only local thing of interest was the obituary page.

I get, when delivered, the same three papers. Each one has a specific area of interest to me, none is a complete newspaper and I too wonder why I spend hundreds of dollars a year on them.

If the papers would focus on investigative reporting and more local news; state county and municpality they might survive but people get 99% of their news via radio and TV. We no longer take the time to read or analyze but rely on others. so sad!

Rob said...

I agree with " olddoc ". Nothing annoys me more than reading an AP story about say " the price of heating oil " for someone in West Virginia. I have often wished the local papers would take that wire story and write an original piece from the perspective of someone locally. It would be of more interest and would be more likely to attract readers seeing information about local events, news, issues etc. I am one of those people who appreciate the feel of holding a newspaper so I am sure I will be paying whatever increases the future holds..
just my $.02

Anonymous said...

Rob - you short changed us. Your $.02 should now be $.04

Bill Hetfield said...

The failure to advocate for citizens and communities is a trend that drives away potential subscribers like myself. The Plainfield Courier News or the Newark Star Ledger would never have let the politicans of Plainfield or Newark off the hook like these papers have. So why subscribe to them? No reason. The Plainfield Blogs have replaced the Courier News. The Blogs have become the mouthpiece for the citizens of Plainfield. Have they been effective? Yes!They have held politicans feet to the fire and will impact on future election results.