Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Leaks and the incredibly shrinking newspaper

So - it was W. Mark Felt who was the famous "deep throat." In the journalism world, I'm sure this news is slightly bittersweet because arguably the most famously-kept secret in journalism history is now revealed. It's sort of like Carly Simon finally revealing the subject of the song "You're So Vain" - when the secret's out, it's typically anticlimactic.

Felt's revelation comes as leaks are being attacked by the administration and conservative media. Felt has already been attacked for having an agenda. If you want a good refresher on Felt and his impact, check out MSN's linked Washington Post article. One thing that all administrations typically do is try to deflect the fact that they engaged in illegal activity by attacking the leak as someone with an agenda. For Felt, it could have been the fact that he was passed over for a position as FBI director when Hoover died (the position went to relative outsider L. Patrick Gray). And just to play fair, Clinton supporters did the same thing with the leak(s) that broke the Lewinsky scandal, which, of course, led to his impeachment.

The fact is that people are generally self-motivated and have an agenda. You're not going to get that many Boy Scouts in 'leak-worthy' positions unless they are motivated by their own agendas. That doesn't discount the fact that wrongdoing occurred. It's also interesting to see that little has been learned from the lessons of Watergate: The tighter the grip on leak suppression, the more leaks generally come out. It's sort of like trying to hold water with your fist.

Topic 2

NPR's "On the Media" did a good story on The Christian Science Monitor. The paper's circulation currently stands at about 60,000. At its peak, its circulation surpassed 200,000. It's a problem that virtually all major newspapers are facing. For most people, it's hard enough to get out of bed, take a shower and make it to work on time without taking an extra 20-30 minutes to browse a newspaper.

Most newspapers realize this and have made their material available online. However, this poses a unique problem... most readers are not too hip on shelling out money for an online subscription. If it's a good article, it's bound to be copied and pasted into an email by a friend. The New York Times is planning to charge its online readers for specific columns. With the Internet approaching 15 years of mass use, it's going to be hard to readjust peoples perceptions that some content comes with a price tag. All I can say is woe to the advertisers who are facing this problem.

For newspapers, this means less revenue from advertisers that are reaching smaller audiences. This means less revenue for reporters, photographers and editors. That means less investigative reporting and local stories. This means more reliance on AP wire.

The good news - newspaper critics said television would kill the newspaper. It didn't. It was a kick in the solar plexus, but they still operated. Coffee houses and bars still need newspapers spread around. You still need newspapers on public transportation to distract you from a long commute. Also, the laptop can never replace the newspaper when it comes to reading the Sports (or comics) section on the throne on a Sunday morning after a night of poor eating and excessive drinking.

Current listening selections:
System of a Down - Mezmerize
Interpol - Turn on the Bright Lights
REM - Reconstruction of the Fables
The Eels - Bright Lights and Other Revelations


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