Marry Me, Walter Pincus

We’ll live happily ever after:

Beginning in the 1960s, papers large and small started being bought for
large sums, first by newspaper chains, which in turn became controlled
by outside financial interests. A few papers remained privately owned,
but eventually almost all sold stock to the public. With that financial
change came monopoly ownership, one newspaper per city or town, and the
notion that the newspaper that survived should be neutral, presenting
all points of view in each controversial story. As I said, the fairness
doctrine has been transferred from radio and television to the
newspaper. How ironic is it today, then, that there are dozens of
competing electronic voices in almost every city, most of which now
have only one newspaper.


Family-owned newspapers were the foundation of American journalism in the 1960s. Like thePost,
most were started by businessmen who wanted a voice in their
communities. Few were begun as the way to make a fortune. That began to
change with the arrival of radio, and then television. The electronic
media involved government licenses, which carried with them the
requirement for delivery of public-affairs programming, starting with
news. Newspapers became the obvious applicants, and many publishers
suddenly became owners of local broadcast stations who stood to make a
lot of money as network affiliates.

In the 1950s and 1960s, when newspapers made single-digit profits,
radio and television affiliates could make up from 40 to 50 percent.
Newspapers large and small started being swallowed by publicly owned
corporations. With that trend came monopoly ownership. Gannett became
the biggest. In 1977, as its purchasing of family papers moved into
high gear, Gannett stock was around $8 a share. By 1990, it was at $75,
and in 2004, it hit $90. At its height, Gannett produced earnings of
more than 22 percent on its gross income, and set a standard that other
newspaper corporations tried to emulate. When Knight-Ridder showed only
a 14 percent profit, its major investors demanded it be sold.

It’s about the money. And it can’t be said often enough or loud enough: For years most newspapers made a fuckton of money. Tons of it. Millions and even billions of dollars. Some of them are still pulling down a fuckton of money, while those that are bankrupt are so not because their business model is dying but because they’re being smothered by greed. It’s good to see people recognizing this.

Still, I wonder how much influence Pincus’s piece will have on the general thinking (Summary: FUCK IPHONES I HATE YOU KIDS DIE CRAIGSLIST YOU STOLE MY CONTENT) in journalism today. People ignored him just fine about the war, which he’s too classy to come right out and say:

Consider the worst of recent examples. I believe the Bush
administration sold the March 2003 invasion of Iraq to the American
people beginning with a public-relations campaign that started in
August 2002. Vice President Dick Cheney kicked it off with a series of
speeches on the growing threat from Saddam Hussein, and it continued
almost daily, with key members of the administration giving speeches,
statements, or press conferences. The result was that the threat from
Saddam Hussein—his alleged nuclear weapons, the idea that he would give
chemical or biological weapons to terrorists—dominated news coverage
right up to the time the first missiles hit Baghdad on March 19, 2003.

Hat tip to Scout who e-mailed this over. I’d just gotten donereading this when it arrived:

Over the next few days I visited nearly every gas station, corner
store and magazine rack nestled in pharmacies around Lakeview and low
and behold…no Time Outs. Little stickers on the front of shops claiming
that “Time Out IS SOLD HERE” misled me.

It was not until I wandered into a shop on Sheffield where I got my
lede. The shop owner told me that Time Out was no longer delivering to
smaller stores. Instead, only big bookstores like Borders would be
carrying copies.

What do you think I did next? Of course I bought a subscription online…five weeks ago. Has it come yet? Nope.

Somehow this, too, is the Internet’s fault.


4 thoughts on “Marry Me, Walter Pincus

  1. Re: Pincus.
    I couldn’t have said it better myself. In fact, I think I HAVE said it myself, to the extent that the folks down at the newspaper office start rolling their eyes as soon as I stroll in…
    Helen Copley and her demonic offspring milked the Copley Press in Illinois like a herd of goats for years before getting rid of the dried-up husk of a once-vibrant newspaper group. In so doing (cutting news coverage and staff in an effort to extract more profit) they managed, for instance, to get the Beacon-News in Aurora to actually lose circulation annually for decades while the city was one of the fastest growing in the U.S.
    The journalism roll of dishonor in Illinois reads like a who’s who of the people most responsible for killing off print news, from Rupert Murdock to Conrad Black to Sam Zell. And I’m not letting the Field family who sold out to The Foreigner (see Royko, Mike for fuller details) off the hook, either.

  2. I was wildly pimping the Pincus column yesterday to anyone who would listen. It’s mindblowing how much good stuff is in it – the money, obviously, but also about the changes in journalism’s culture, the strengthening White House PR machine, the perniciousness of balance…
    And I want a tattoo of this: “That is how Americans absorb information—by repetition.”

  3. you mean it’s NOT about journalism? it’s about stock holders?
    maybe if the didn’t make amerikkkan idol into ‘news’. OOOH, a guy from WI s in the finals. pfft. whatever.

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