Today's update by the Washington Post on the fate of the New Orleans Times-Picuayne, whose publisher after Hurricane Katrina decided to try putting out only three print editions a week and focusing on the newspaper's new online version, contains some bad news for those of us hoping Journalism will survive the relentless decline of the newspaper industry. The verdict is that the print edition still brings in all almost the revenue, and that revenue continues to decline.
This dovetails with national data showing that internet ad revenue has been slowly increasing but not nearly enough to help the newspaper industry. In other words, an online newspaper can't come close to supporting itself.
Note that in my introduction I focused on the "publisher" of the Time-Picuyane, who is a rich man. The Washington post didn't talk to him. They talked to the man who runs the paper, the editor. They approached the story from the point of view of Journalism -- how many good reporters have been lost, what about the overall picture for newspapers? The reporters and editors at the Washington Post are naturally concerned about what being lost when newspapers are lost. Many of us cherish our newspapers. We look forward to the morning paper with our coffee. We appreciate the well written story that fleshes out something about American life. we appreciate thorough reporting on government and good investigative journalism that alerts us to problems in need of our attention.
But remember that newspapers have always been the voices of the people controlling the purse strings. When our founding fathers enshrined press freedoms in the constitution they were enshrining the ability of the members of their economic class of merchants and landowners to carry on an open debate among themselves. Their slaves didn't have their own newspapers, nor did the white working class, nor did women.
The most promising progressive web sites, like The Intercept and the Center for Public Integrity, rely on funding from progressive rich people. Like the newspapers they are replacing they will only contain information and opinions progressive rich people want them to contain.
Locally, the New Mexico Political Report shows promise. It's funded, I learned within a few minutes owing to the the miracle of the internet, by Michael Huttner, a lawyer from Denver who has built a network of progressive news outlets. I also learned that Huttner is an Obama supporter and part of the Democratic Party establishment. I doubt it would take much more digging to find out that he gets financial help for his project from the Democratic Party, but even if he doesn't his publications' politics aren't going to stray outside the parameters allowed by the Democratic Party. They won't challenge the party's ties to Wall Street. They won't challenge Capitalism. We the people will continue to be the losers.
With all the publications I've mentioned, as it's been with all the newspapers that may or may not be fading into history, he who pays the piper calls the tune. Nevertheless, the model the new online publications are developing holds promise for we the people and for the possibility of us developing our own news outlets that promote our own interests.