Almost a year ago, media conglomerate Tronc purchased the New York Daily News. Tronc is a fairly lean animal, with a penchant for nice things nevertheless, and knows a bit about turning newspapers around. They pulled the Chicago Tribune up out of a seemingly impossible tailspin, and re-powered the venerable Baltimore Sun. Recognizing the suddenly unionized Los Angeles Times was now incurable, they tanked it and sold it to someone with questionable experience. With sweeping changes at those papers out of the way, they turned their attention to the New York Daily News.
After a period of analyzing how the New York paper wrote its stories, managed its resources, and presented itself, Tronc promptly cut half the editorial staff. Editors who had been there for years suddenly found that experience counted for nothing, and were dumped unceremoniously onto the street.
“Finally, some good news,” mainstream media announced, “We can now talk about ourselves,” which—let’s face it—is the media’s absolute favorite past-time. Media outlets around the country announced, with usual liberal fashion, that firing half the editorial staff pour encourager les autres, was certainly the end of America as we know it, that fire is already raining down from the heavens, nothing is safe, and the seas boil and consume the lands. Somewhere, Jefferson sobs and such.
Because the media would rather have a completely failed newspaper, producing horseshit political screeds no one wants to read, than have a functioning reporting arm, one supposes. The fact is that Tronc purchased the New York Daily News for one dollar. You read that right: they paid a single dollar, because by law, they could not pay less for the paper. From the media’s perspective, Tronc assumed all operating liabilities and agreed to fund all existing pensions because, evidently, they wanted to see the New York Daily News continue to produce nothing of quality.
Tronc had a different view of the Daily News. One of the latter’s columnists wrote:
[T]here are “just a handful of reporters” left covering public housing, schools, transportation and courts in New York after years of cuts in local news.
That’s the problem Tronc intends to fix. Cuts at the Daily News reduced them to a Potemkin village of reporting…but evidently there were plenty of editors left to opine about politics and pop culture. Maybe they let a few of those guys go, and hire back some actual reporters? The Czar should note that, typically, editors make more per year than reporters, so cutting half the editorial staff could possibly hire a lot more reporters. The Tronc press release stated something similar: the newspaper will now focus on news, especially crime reporting. Crime reporting? What is this, the glory days of journalism? Next thing you know, they’ll put in an actual city desk, where a fast-thinking editor assigns breaking stories to eager reporters who write well and can get the story straight.
Gosh, it would be interesting to see the editorial blasphemy disappear out of the newspaper and see factual reporting in there again.
You readers know the Czar detests the news media. Where newspapers are concerned, the Czar has a specific series of observations:
- Reporters generally try to do a good job, and write stories with a lot of facts in them—a lot of those facts are interesting, but not critical to the story as it develops over time.
- Editors gut the hell out of those stories, stripping out items they deem unimportant, and—increasingly—adding elements they feel are helpful to the reader.
- Since the 1990s, editors (inspired by talking heads on cable news) feel compelled to assist the reader in interpreting the story. Here’s why this is important. Here’s how this affects you.
- Psychologically, a person is inevitably biased in which words he or she selects to relate a story. This is called lensing: you see the world through your lens (your experiences and viewpoints), and even though you believe you are being as neutral as possible, you wind up biasing a story.
- A significant percentage, perhaps the majority, of media bias examples occur through word selection. Note how a president’s economic success will vary based on his political party: homelessness is rampant despite an encouraging economy under Republicans (bad news before good), and Democrats carefully steer the nation through difficult times (good before bad), knowing most people read only the first half of a clause as they skim headlines.
- Editors control most of the content you read in a paper. Most are ardently liberal democrats, a large number bordering on pro-socialism. In socialist societies, editors have an easier job of reporting. No one blames them for getting the story wrong. You don’t get fired for nodding your head, only for speaking in opposition. With the latter, you might lose your head.
- The amount of conservative Republicans working as editors—once the vast majority in the 1920s and 1930s—is a population now smaller than a society of Pacific Northwest sasquatches, and about as often seen. Most of the conservatives have left for online media, which is growing and succeeding.
- On the other hand, most newspapers have reduced their reporter pools to skeleton crews or token forces. Editorial staff have increased, probably because there are so many news stories today that need handcrafting.
- As we said on Twitter the other day, if one were to take a highlighter and color the factual statements in a newspaper, there would be very little color on the page. We have reached a saturation point in journalism where news stories are overwhelmingly opinion or speculative fact. The Czar suspects that many editors are beyond the ability to recognize the distinction.
Sadly, too few Americans can apply critical thinking skills, and many who can—most elementary schools and secondary schools still devote a small amount of the curriculum to critical thinking, but apply it largely to literature only—fail to realize these skills are essentially applicable to news stories. The Czar has a few anecdotes in which he has witnessed people disregard critical thinking of news stories because “this is the news…these are facts.” Maybe, but how do you know? “They check these facts before they print them.” Who does? The editors…and that’s the problem.
The Czar can’t (and won’t) promise that in two weeks’ time, the New York Daily News will suddenly become a First Amendment powerhouse, watchdogging the government, fact-checking politicians, reporting on corruption in the criminal justice system, and providing its readers critical news stories to make informed decisions. There have been improvements in both the Chicago Tribune and Baltimore Sun, for example, but too much of any newspaper is barely useful beyond lining gold-gilded birdcages under a Democrat president or insulating those sleeping homeless under a Republican president. Tronc isn’t a group of libertarians, by any means–just a business studying what drives folks away from a product.
Once upon a time, a reader could easily find a newspaper with similar political viewpoints. In a large city, you had two or more papers competing on politics; if you disagreed with one, you subscribed to the other. If your rural area only had one paper, odds were very high your political viewpoint matched the paper’s, based on your local economics or industry (in Iowa, in 1935, a Republican paper would have had no readers). In order to increase readership in a fixed market, some papers decided to adopt a more neutral tone to the stories, thereby luring readers from the other paper over to theirs. This worked, until the other paper did the same thing. Over a short period of time, the trend among newspapers was to attempt even-handed stories, providing two opposing political viewpoints where possible—no matter how extreme or off-the-wall.
As the Czar insists, this is ultimately impossible and self-defeating. You can’t do it without eventually tipping your hand. And we wind up with these ridiculous rags that are 95% opinion and 5% op ed. And that’s allegedly “fair.” And people drift away from newspapers and find a fresher approach online, where it becomes patently and immediately obvious what political party is endorsed. This increases polarization of opinion, but that was inevitable anyway. And sales of newspapers plummet to where a major city paper can be purchased for one dollar.
Or, you know, you might try what Tronc is attempting: stick to news, and drop the opinion. It may be foolhardy, and it may not work, but it’s certainly more hopeful than the laissez-faire tantrums the media are exhibiting now about Tronc. In other words, the media are telling Tronc, “Your cure is a long-shot, whereas we’re facing certain death otherwise.” It’s not that hard to figure out, even for an editor.