Friday, February 12, 2010


Near the end of January, in the newsroom at Newsday, the Long Island daily paper serving 377,000 subscribers, a reporter asked a question of his publisher. Three months prior, the company established a pay-wall on its Web site, The reporter wanted to know how many people ponied up the $260 annual fee for total access.

The publisher, Terry Jimenez, didn’t know, so he asked someone who did. The answer was 35. Thirty-five people had signed up for the online service.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Watchdog’s Deathwatch: American journalism’s decline has big repercussions in Illinois

It is common knowledge now that the newspaper, along with an enormous chunk of journalism, is on a deathwatch. How much time it has left is the subject of rancorous debate.

The latest estimations give the newspaper industry about eight years before nobody is reading, and that’s a best-case estimate based on an annual readership decline of seven percent. But the rate actually is increasing, so it might only take six years. These are the predictions of John Nichols, The Nation’s Washington correspondent and associate editor of The Capital Times in Madison, Wisconsin, and Dr. Bob McChesney, the Gutgsell Endowed Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, in their latest book “The Death and Life of American Journalism,” published last month. There will be more about Nichols’ and McChesney’s latest book in a future entry.
The statistics about the ones who really deliver the news, journalists, are even more disheartening. Nichols and McChesney write that in 2008, the McClatchy Company slashed a third of its workforce, despite a 21 percent profit margin. The Gannett chain of newspapers got rid of 3,000 employees, despite an overall profit margin of 21 percent. Paper Cuts, a blog tracking losses in the nation’s newspapers, counted more than 14,800 reporters let go in 2009. In 2008, the figure was more than 15,900.

In shedding journalists, it’s most often the expensive and seasoned who get axed, meaning political coverage and investigative journalism is hurting the most. In 2009, there were 355 full-time reporters covering statehouses in the US, according to an American Journalism Review tally, a 32 percent drop from six years ago.

In Illinois, where of six the past 14 elected governors were charged with crimes (three of whom served prison sentences, with one more likely on the way), six of 10 papers with capital bureaus made cuts. Three papers shuttered their capital bureaus entirely.
With fewer people covering the essential beats, it’s bound to happen that critical stories slip by the watchdog. This happened in a very, very big way in Illinois on Tuesday, February 4, when the arrest record of the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor became front-page, top-of-the-fold fodder.

What actually emerged, and only after Scott Lee Cohen won the Democratic primary for the lieutenant governor’s spot, was that in October 2005 Cohen was accused of putting a knife to the throat of his 24 year-old prostitute girlfriend. Later, the press informed the public of his anabolic steroid use, and the fact that despite using $2 million of his own cash, Cohen fell behind on child support payments.