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.

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)

  • Guest

    We provide in-depth investigative reporting like no other source = = = Spot On, every online blog just gives me somebody’s opinion. I have only seen a newspaper really dig

  • Guest

    Folks are hungry for news they can use without wondering what they are not being told. Have an editor sit down with two from opposite sides of an issue and print a JOINT article, addressing points and counter-points. No labels, no slurs, no claimed motives. This is something no other media can do clearly and calmly.

    All too often we get one article “it is all good” Monday and another “it is all bad” on Wednesday that talk past each other.

    Folks actually seeing points raised and the responses will be able to make up their own minds. A joint article will leave little unsaid and the editor can keep it focused on the issues, not the motives of the “bad” side. TV talk shows are just trying to trip somebody up and give no time to find facts to counter a statement.

    A written article both sides can agree to will present the issue clearly for readers to make up their own minds.

    Do folks think joint articles would bring back readers or am I all wet here?

    • I think you’re confusing analysis and op-eds with news stories.

      • Guest

        Call it anything you want. A single article where both side agree on the facts and state their guess at consequences and reply directly to points raised seems a better analysis / opinion than available on any other platform.

    • Sonny T

      Joint articles would look like the editorial page.

      Instead, I think reporters should declare their political affiliation. The byline would then read, after the headline, By Jane Doe (Republican) * Washington Post

      • Which would give people like you a bigger ability to dismiss facts and professionally reported and vetted material as merely the work of a biased journalist, which saves you the trouble of researching the story being reported on where you’d other wise find that, damn, those reporters did a good job covering that story.

        The difference between you and professional reporters is professional reporters have the ability to ignore their political beliefs for a portion of the day rather than let it dominant an dictate their entire life and view.

        That’s why they’re professionals.

        • Sonny T

          Someone’s a bit testy this morning. I think there’s more sense in my proposal than I’m getting credit for. News reporters should be politically diverse. Prove it.

          • Mike

            Bob’s right.

            In this era of social media and tailored news feeds, having a reporter declare their political affiliation is another step towards building your own personal ‘walled garden’ of news that will only display things that support your views.

          • Sonny T

            Maybe. But declaring political affiliation seems a very small thing. At least we would see whether two writers are doing what they’re supposed to do– sound the same.

          • fromthesidelines21

            I’m don’t know what your profession is, but do you declare your political affiliation to those you interact with at work? Would it enhance or hinder the job? I’m just curious if you would like to see all professions do the same as you are suggesting for journalists? Seems like it would be unnecessarily problematic.

          • Sonny T

            You’re ignoring the fact that accusations of news bias are red hot right now.

            My idea is common-sense. Let’s settle this. Open the doors. You would think outlets would welcome it. Or do they have something to hide?

          • // hat accusations of news bias are red hot right now.

            Witness the golden age of ignorance.

            Look, you’re a guy who CLEARLY is a REpublican but keeps calling himself a moderate.

            You go first.

          • Sonny T

            You may think it’s ignorance, but the controversy exists, and should be addressed.

          • What’s your political party?

            The “controvery exists” because of ignorant extremists who have no ability to scholarly research an issue and have to resort to screaming “fake news”, believing that it’s a fair substitute for an intellectual response.

            Those people just need to be kicked to the curb and ignored instead of constantly being accommodated.

            They’ve got their InfoWars. Let them go be together on the margins of society where they belong.

          • Sonny T

            You asked me this before. I am an independent. However, I don’t see what bearing this has on my proposal.

          • Why just stop at political affiliation?

            How about including:

            Religious affiliation, ethnic group identity. education level, household income, children and their ages. Do they go to public school? Parochial school? Homeschool?

            All of these questions (and more) COULD be cause for “news bias”, but for a professional reporter, aren’t…because they are professionals.

          • Sonny T

            But it’s political bias which has become the issue.

          • I’ve seen these other “concerns” being brought up as well.

          • X.A. Smith

            It is being made an issue on purpose, by one party only; it hasn’t just “become” anything. You are making it an issue, because you are trolling.

          • BJ

            Not buying it you clearly are not independent.

          • Sonny T

            I think both parties are bought and payed for by the elites. Does that count as independent?

          • BJ

            Partly it was sarcasm. But you are using langue that is very much used in one camp. I would say you are a solid Republican, at least solid Trump. Now think about this -> considering that barely a majority (59% ID as GOP or D – pew 03/2018) of the population identify with a party, and most that work in news interact with the leaders of the parties, I would guess that most in the news business can’t stand either party.

          • I like politicians. It’s the people who vote for them I have a problem with. :*)

          • jon

            Yet, that’s what it would say under his by line if he were a journalist… 😉

          • We’ve got security guards now guarding our newsroom now because of this sort of mentality.

          • Sonny T

            My question is sensible, rhetorical. It asks that we address the idea of political diversity in the media. This is a mainstream issue.

          • Postal Customer

            “You’re ignoring the fact that accusations of news bias are red hot right now.”

            Red hot according to whom?

          • Sonny T

            To many.

            There are those who once accused the media of being conservative. They said they carried the water for the military, the power structure. They delayed equal rights. Even abetted the Vietnam war. Were they wrong?

            These are everyone’s issues.

          • There weren’t very many people calling the media conservative during Vietnam, actually. Ask Nixon.

            Do you have some present day examples of local reporters who may be letting political bias into their stories, as evidenced by an actual cited example, that compares to, say, a legislative hearing or event that happened?

            If so, bring it.

          • According to the gas bags on the extreme right who have no intellectual response to what is printed in a news story and prefer instead to lay down a smokescreen to avoid having to react to a story with facts to rebut it.

            See also, “Trump, Donald.”

            And what remains of his base.

          • Sonny T

            Let the ad hominems begin!

          • Jim E

            Accusations of bias may be red hot, but actual evidence of systematic bias in the MSM is thin.

          • Sonny T

            See my post to Dave.

          • Postal Customer

            I see more incompetence than bias.

            Example:

            “BUT HER EMAILS!!”

            — Every NYTimes article in 2016

          • RBHolb

            News bias has been a Republican article of faith for going on 50 years now. What makes it “red hot” is that those accusations have been weaponized to an extent not seen before.
            I don’t recall Spiro Agnew or President Nixon ever referring publicly to the news media as “enemies of the people.”

          • Sonny T

            Weaponized? Or do those accusations have greater weight than ever?

            “Vigilance is the price of liberty.”

          • RBHolb

            Weaponized is not an exaggeration. News media are being portrayed as “enemies of the people,” and there is a near-constant barrage of “suggestions” coming from the President on how to rein in the press. Why? Because they aren’t bathing him in unstinting adoration [editorializing, but not exaggerating].

            We’ve already heard the term “Lügenpresse” being thrown about.

            “Or do those accusations have greater weight than ever?” Only because the President is a thin-skinned egomaniac who cannot stand the idea of any type of criticism.

          • Sonny T

            But the response shouldn’t be, “None of it is true and I don’t want to talk to you.”

            What I propose would shut the critics up, and fast. If a newsroom can say, “Look. We have 73 Dems, 65 Repubs, 13 Indies, and 17 refused to answer,” the issue would vanish.

          • jon

            You say this after a republican ran an investigation into the president of the united states and was labeled a democrat because of it?

            You are only stoking the flames of identity politics.

          • Sonny T

            The beauty of America is the nonstop opposition of the two major parties. When they work together it is often to our detriment. Valid opposition, reasoned opposition is the core of our democracy.

          • RBHolb

            No, it wouldn’t. Those to whom this issue is important would point out that there are more Democrats than Republicans, so therefore, the whole operation must be biased. I would also bet that the Republicans would be immediately castigated as RINOs for agreeing to associate with Democrats without spitting on them.

            Then, those critics would tune in Fox News and log in to World Net Daily to confirm that the news media is in fact nothing more than the continuation of the Fourth International.

          • the easiest way to shut the critics up is recognize what they’re doing and stop paying any attention to them.

          • X.A. Smith

            I believe the response here has been prove it, or stop trolling.

          • Rob

            Vigilance is what fact-based, tranparent reporting is all about. Hand-wringing about newsroom bias is obfuscatory, and anti-liberty.

          • Rob

            Que?

          • // But declaring political affiliation seems a very small thing.

            What if they’re not a member of a political party? What if they favor a woman’s right to an abortion and also the right to own a gun? What if they believe in financial conservatism but the right to marry someone of the same gender?

            See, that’s the problem. In your world, and the world of most people whose lives are dominated by an ideology, there’s no room for anything but a straigh toe-the-line of extremist politics.

          • Sonny T

            You can ID as independent. This isn’t that complicated.

          • But that’s not being an independent. What I described, actually, is the classic old-school “Republican.”

            There are quite a few of them trying to get their party back from the extremists, who label them RINOs. So how do they define themselves.

            What you’re actually looking for is whether or not a journalist agrees with YOU about whatever issue they may be writing about. But what you think about an issue is irrelevant. That’s a reality for them, too. They know that what they think about an issue is irrelevant.

            Take my challenge. Go watch a legislative committee hearing this week, then compare what’s written, then come back with some data .

          • Jay T. Berken

            Are you a Republican or Democrat?

          • Sonny T

            What bearing would that have on the argument? But I enjoy your posts, and so will give you a hint. I voted for neither Kang nor Kodos : )

          • jon

            “reporters should declare their political affiliation.”
            “Are you a Republican or Democrat?”
            “What bearing would that have on the argument?”

            Exactly.

          • Sonny T

            You’re conflating two unrelated things. One is the arguer, the other the argument.

            Back to the point. Would you be comfortable knowing every single member of a newsroom is DFL? Or GOP? I wouldn’t.

          • do you think you’d be able to tell? If you can’t, doesn’t that tell you there’s not a problem.

            I’ve challenged you multiple times to cite an example of local reporters whose work can be proven influenced by a political bias by comparing the work to the facts of the story covered.

            this should actually be easy. If you don’t want to work with people whose politics you dont’ know, work with the ones who do. There are tons of ex-newspaper people who’ve taken jobs as flaks (spit) in the public sector with a political bent. Go look at their work and see.

          • Sonny T

            If we start on specific examples I can find daily breaches, at least among the major outlets. But this is a rabbit hole. It’s well beyond today’s purview.

            Let’s focus. If we want to address accusations of bias, how do we go about it?

          • No, go ahead.

            I could give a damn, frankly, about ACCUSATIONS of bias. Any fool can make an accusation.

            Actual bias in a new story. That’s something I care about.

            So go ahead and offer examples.

          • Sonny T

            Not gonna do it Bob. It will deteriorate into a he said she said cassarole.

            If you’re saying we shouldn’t examine the media for bias, that the concept is purely a political concept, we are at an impasse. However, I would think you would welcome it. Demand it, as a matter of fact.

          • Yeah, see, this is where you’re revealed as a troll. You light a match and then put nothing behind it of any intellectual heft.

            Go away now.

          • Sonny T

            But we went through this before. I said the Japanese Koi debacle, you said give me another. I said something else, you said no, not something else. We’ll get nowhere.

            My point is how can we combat distrust in the media. If newsrooms can show diversity, it ends the argument.

          • jon

            Since they are mostly quotes from you I assume that you’ve missed the part where you are the one “conflating” the article and the author, and the author and the authors political affiliation.

            If your “arguments” (statements) stand on their own with no need to know your political affiliation why can’t journalists?

          • Sonny T

            Journalists can and should operate without bias. But there’s been serious, widespread, and not altogether partisan accusations to the contrary. How do we address these?

          • By providing an example.

          • jon

            So your first thought to fix the problem of accusations isn’t to investigate if they are true?

            Credible Accusations mandate investigation… instead you give us more accusations… with yourself as the accuser… and you say that your own basis is of no relevance…

            I’ll ask my question again. since you didn’t answer it, and keep trying to shift away from the topic.

            If your statements don’t need to have the bias of their author documented (accurately, so let’s stop with the self reporting) why do journalists?

          • Sonny T

            My point is not whether bias exists. It may or may not, but certainly the perception exists. How do we combat the perception, which is widespread and ongoing?

            I assume you feel there is no bias. Let’s poll the newsroom and prove it.

          • jon

            You’d assume wrong, personal bias exists.
            I don’t think any reasonable person would argue that it doesn’t.
            There is no need to run a poll to prove that.

            Now that we’ve established that everyone has their own personal bias… let’s ask a the important question, does that bias reflect in the articles being written in a significant way?

            To that I suggest the answer is, no. The people who are professionals need to acknowledge their own bias and then set it aside.

            This isn’t internet comments where we can just spout out bias and pretend we don’t have them…
            These are professionals, they are tasked with identify their basis, so they can see if it bleeds into their work, and remove it in the event that it does.

            If you don’t believe you have a bias, then you just don’t realize it’s there… and that is exactly the sort of person you shouldn’t have acting as a journalist.

          • Sonny T

            Yes.

          • Rob

            There have been rightist-driven smear campaigns against legitimate, fact-based journalism. Is that what you’re talking about?

          • Sonny T

            No. There’s been some legitimate concerns. If you say none, zero, zilch that wouldn’t be entirely true.

          • Rob

            Cite one legitimate concern. Just one

          • Preferably a local one.

          • Sonny T

            Well I’ll break my rule then and go off-subject. It detracts from my point, but here goes.

            A City Pages article ran a mining piece May 1. Really well done, and well-researched. Except for the final third. Then it was Trump this and Trump that.

            This is a terrible disservice. The sulfide mine debacle in the BWCA watershed is bipartisan. Depressingly so. But the casual reader can feel good, I suppose. It’s all Trump’s fault.

          • Good Lord. We spent all day on this and it turns out you were talking about freaking City Pages all this time.

            May 31st can’t come soon enough.

          • Sonny T

            What’s wrong with them?

            Also I want to take this opportunity to tell you this is not an attack on your profession, which I admire (as you know). It’s been an honor to have a pro, an insider, engage, always.

            May 31st? Say it ain’t so.

          • I’d like to know so I can tell, as I understand it, whether you’re saying has any intellectual heft or is just a product of your political bias.

          • Sonny T

            I want diversity in the newsroom. As a progressive, I would be disturbed if, upon being hired by a news outlet, I discovered every person there is also a progressive.

          • So you say. Now answer the question

          • Sonny T

            Didn’t I answer your question? If you want to know if I would be equally concerned regardless of politics the answer is yes.

          • What political party are you in?

          • Sonny T

            Don’t have one and don’t need one.

          • This isn’t even close to being true.

            In the year — two days from now — that you have been on Disqus, you have made 947 comments, every one of them about politics and every one of them echoing the Republican line. Every. one.

            This is the difference between merely asserting something as true (or not) , and proving that it’s true.

            The accumulation of your work — the body of evidence, if you will — betrays your singular assertion.

          • Sonny T

            Bob, I only get involved with discussions I can make contributions to, make someone assess their argument, and get something productive. Giving a thumbs up is not productive (although I don’t deny others the right– I actually want to hear what they say).

            There are many, many I agree with, so I keep quiet and nod my head.

            What you are saying is not true at all. I have been very hard on Republicans on many issues in these posts, particularly health care and the environment. I would never ID as one.

          • Mark Snyder

            Bob may be testy, but he’s also correct. Through him, I’ve learned about and follow a lot of local journalists and have gotten at least some insight into their political leanings.

            You don’t see it in the actual articles they write because they do adhere to journalistic standards, even when it’s probably killing them inside to do so.

          • Sonny T

            But don’t you want to know? Wouldn’t it bother you to find every reporter for an outlet (or nearly every one) is politically in agreement?

          • Only if you believe their politics is translating to their NEWS stories and there’s very little indication that’s happening.

            Maybe conduct your own experiment. Watch a hearing up at the Legislature, then go to the newspapers or radio or TV and see what they reported and see if you can detect an actual bias.

            The odds are small that you will. There’s a reason for that.

            That’s why they’re professionals.

          • J Allen

            Of course anyone can compare news sources and judge how truthful they are, and find ones that are reliable. I’m a MPR sustaining member because I think MPR is a trustworthy source of information. Even about the weather. But the vast majority of professional journalists do strive for accuracy in their reporting and hold themselves to a high standard.

          • Rob

            As long as the reporting is fact-based and transparent, the reporter’s political affilations/sentiments are irrelevant.

          • ” I think there’s more sense in my proposal…”

            Well there’s your problem.

          • Sonny T

            Yes, I do. I think it’s an excellent idea. You can address the idea, or attack the messenger. Isn’t attacking the messenger called, um … trolling?

          • Actually, no, that’s not the definition of trolling.

      • Rob

        But then we’d find out they’re all socialists, just like Alex Jones claims.

        • Sonny T

          There certainly wouldn’t be any Trump supporters. None that would admit it. Not if you ever want to eat brie again, or be invited to Penelope’s mixer.

          • RBHolb

            You could still go to Alan Dershowitz’s place for a whine and cheese party.

          • Rob

            I don’t think anybody who is firmly laminated to reality is a T.Rump supporter, journalist or not.

            I’ve never eaten Brie or been at any of Penelope’s mixers. But nice way to get your “coastal elites” dig in.

    • Rob

      I prefer fact-based reporting, thanks.

  • MrE85

    “The tribune attempts to survive by posting a lot of columns critical of the local predominant religious with a negative and biased slant.”

    Translation: The Tribune refuses to always reflect the opinions and dogma of the Church of the Later Day Saints (aka Mormons) in their content. From what I understand about Utah, that makes them a uniquely independent voice.

    “If the Trib were producing news that the community valued then they would have plenty of advertising dollars and revenue to survive.”

    I don’t think this person has a very good understanding of the business model for newspapers….or community value.

    “We provide in-depth investigative reporting like no other source in Wisconsin can..”

    …and then we hide it behind a paywall.

    RIP, Warroad Pioneer. You had a good run.

    • Rob

      Read it. Don’t mean to sound
      smug, but the article confirms my choices to stay Twitter-free, Facebook-free and cable news-free. I have always gotten my news only from legitimate, fact-based news sources, and shall continue to do so.

      • ironkitten

        You do know those sources post their stores on Twitter and Facebook, right?

  • LifebloodMN

    “It has become a sarcastic proverb that a thing must be true if you saw it in a newspaper. That is the opinion intelligent people have of that lying vehicle in a nutshell. But the trouble is that the stupid people — who constitute the grand overwhelming majority of this and all other nations — do believe and are moulded and convinced by what they get out of a newspaper, and there is where the harm lies.” -Mark Twain, 1873

  • Jeff

    I’m guessing it’s more complicated that people opting for ignorance. It used to be the local paper was the source of most news: national, state, local, international. Now there’s tons of online media which you can get accurate news. That leaves the local paper to pick up the local crumbs. Also classifieds have gone online so there’s a significant source of revenue missing.

    • // tons of online media which you can get accurate news

      Almost all of it traces back to a newspaper.

      • Jeff

        Yes true, but most likely it’s one of the big ones that are doing ok (NYT, WaPO, WSJ, even the Star Tribune).

        There’s a local suburban paper I could subscribe to but I don’t care too much about most of what’s in it (high school sports, obituaries, local business) at least not enough to want to pay for it. I occasionally will look at the online version. I’m sure someday I’ll be blindsided by some local event that I should have known about – like they are going to destroy our neighborhood to build a hyperspace bypass.

  • Ickster

    I suspect that as a society, we’ve chosen ignorance for a long time, but the older model of journalism found a way to make the formula work economically.

    Newspaper news gathering was largely subsidized by classifieds, which have gone away.

    TV news started as an FCC requirement (searching for and can’t find the regulation) as part of the public interest, and newsrooms often operated at a loss out of what I suspect was a combination of loss-leader/prestige/actual public interest reasons. Then someone got the bright idea that TV news could be a profit center, and here we are.

    I don’t know what the answer is, but clearly people aren’t willing to pay for real news–gossip and sports, yes. Investigation and reporting, no.

    The non-profit route might be workable; I subscribe to MinnPost and others, but have a hard time coughing up money for some of the traditional outlets because of the amount of dreck they produce trying to drive page views to keep afloat.

    I suppose that puts them in a bit of a catch-22; maybe I should subscribe to the Strib after all.

  • It has never been easier to find “news” that confirms our own biases. Furthermore, the internet has allowed for stupid people of various stripes to find each other and make common cause in virtual communities that transcend geography. Traditional curated journalism-driven news sources are struggling from this “competition”, even though there is really no comparison in the quality of the products.

  • John O.

    Gannett has basically eradicated local reporting across much of the State of Wisconsin. My hometown paper is on that list and doesn’t have enough newsprint in a typical daily edition anymore to contribute to toilet training a puppy. The list of dailies they own is here.