With the death of newspapers, a golden age of ignorance is born

Another Minnesota newspaper has gone belly up. MPR News reporter John Enger writes that the Warroad Pioneer is no more.

It’s another victim of the American foolishness that believes it’s possible to be an informed community without having (a) information and (b) community.

News media from as far away as Tokyo showed up to document the paper’s demise because, apparently, even the people of Tokyo care more about Warroad than the people of Warroad.

New York Times writer Richard Fausset reads a proof copy of the Warroad Pioneer’s final edition. He tells Pioneer publisher Rebecca Colden that it’s a lovely paper. John Enger | MPR News

Enger’s story contained quotes from residents who couldn’t possibly care less.

So an idea at a Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper in Salt Lake City will be interesting to watch. The Salt Lake Tribune is going to try to be the nation’s first major nonprofit daily newspaper.

“The Tribune is a vital community asset and should be owned by the community,” said owner Paul Huntsman, who has studied the idea based on other news nonprofits.

And that’s the flaw in the idea that is revealed by Warroad’s indifference. A community has to see a local newspaper as a “vital community asset.”

Huntsman is desperate, as most daily newspapers are. He laid off a third of the staff a year ago.

“We have to survive,” editor Jennifer Napier-Pearce said. “Our community would be so much worse off without this publication, let alone independent journalism.”

But communities don’t believe that. It can hardly be a secret that newspapers are struggling and communities aren’t exactly responding to the possibility of their demise, which forces the papers to barricade their online product behind paywalls that people don’t want to pay for. If people don’t see the news, did it really happen? Does a story have any impact if few people read it?

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, a Gannett paper, is the latest to put its local content behind a full paywall, editor George Stanley announced yesterday.

Our reporters often are the only public representatives present when important policies are discussed and voted upon by city councils, village boards, school boards, county supervisors and state authorities.

They report accurately and fairly about what your elected representatives are up to and how they’re spending your tax dollars. This is how the citizens stay in charge.

We provide in-depth investigative reporting like no other source in Wisconsin can, shining a light on problems while also researching best practices so that improvements can be made.

Just one ongoing example: Our investigation into the little-known practice of hospitals diverting patients from their ERs, even from regional stroke centers best able to handle the emergencies, due to inefficient patient processing practices.

It wouldn’t be surprising to see Minnesota’s Gannett paper — the St. Cloud Times — go the same route.

Stanley’s argument was a compelling one in an earlier age, but it’s one that has lately been met nationwide with a collective shoulder shrug.

Huntsman’s gamble is based on a the public radio model that depends on subscribers, yes, but also on foundations willing to prop up a non-profit news organization. And, truth be told, strictly local public radio operations are in tough times, too.

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how much money, resources and people are out there in the country right now wanting to support nonprofit journalism,” Huntsman said.

He’ll need IRS approval, which he’ll probably get.

“This gives us a different way for the public to understand our mission and be supportive of it,” a Tribune vice president said.

It sounds so perfect.

Unsurprisingly, the comments to the Tribune’s article has its share of people who think the community would be better off without the newspaper, ironically going on a newspaper’s website to say so:

The Salt Lake Tribune is not a community asset – what a joke! If the Trib were producing news that the community valued then they would have plenty of advertising dollars and revenue to survive. That should tell you something about it’s lack of value.

It’s “independent” voice is also a joke. The tribune attempts to survive by posting a lot of columns critical of the local predominant religious with a negative and biased slant. That is not journalism with integrity nor does it provide value to the community.

Let Paul Huntsman fund the rag if he thinks it is such a “community asset”. I think the Tribune is seeing it’s “last days” and before too long it will be nothing more than a memory of local history that we will read about in the Deseret News.

We are entering the golden age of ignorance. It was the choice we made.

(h/t: Paul Tosto)