A recent column by Leonard Pitts made a point that we’d like to reiterate, even though it’s self-serving: A future without newspapers is a very dark prospect indeed.
The Miami Herald’s dogged reporting led to the indictment of billionaire Jeffrey Epstein on sex charges. It also revealed the sweetheart deal between Miami prosecutors — one of whom now serves in Donald Trump’s Cabinet — and the billionaire’s high-powered lawyers years ago on similar charges that allowed the man to stay out of jail.
Were it not for the Herald digging up the truth, more girls would have been victimized, and two powerful people would not be held to account. Want another example? Go watch “Spotlight,” or “All the President’s Men.” True stories.
Meanwhile, newspapers around the country are fighting for their lives. The Vindicator in Youngstown, Ohio, a market of about 200,000 people, announced recently that it is closing.
That’s a big one; all those people in that community will be left far worse-informed than before. And they’re not alone: About 1,800 newspapers have gone out of business since 2004, according to a University of North Carolina study.
It’s easy to say that broadcast or social media will adequately fill the news gap, but that’s malarkey. Television is an entertainment medium, and the newscasts are generally crime, sports and weather. Social media is an echo chamber where people yell at each other, try to look attractive, and pass along rumor. Nobody knows what they’re doing.
Here in Manhattan, for instance, but for The Mercury nobody would have known about a $25 million decision by the state government that will affect roads near the football stadium and has momentarily killed a Bill Snyder museum.
Let’s give credit to KMAN radio for picking up the story after ours, and also for sometimes sitting alongside Mercury reporters at government meetings. It’s often boring, tedious work, but if we don’t watch what they’re doing, nobody else will.
Here are some telling facts: Every year about this time the local governments discuss their budgets in open meetings. Nobody from the public, other than our reporter, shows up. Every year they talk about holding down the mill levy, but they routinely nudge it up slightly.
Meanwhile, property values edge slightly upward. The bottom line is that your property tax bill — determined by the value of your property multiplied by the tax rate — goes up by more than the rate of inflation. Nobody would be there to do the math or tell you what’s really going on, if it weren’t for The Mercury.
Who else would do it? The government? Ha! Good one.
We don’t win any awards, and we don’t sell any papers at the grocery store, and we certainly don’t sell any ads, because we publish some nuts-and-bolts report on a city budget work session. We do it because it’s important.
In the long run, we believe subscribers continue to subscribe because of that kind of service, and advertisers buy ads because they want to reach an audience of intelligent, well-informed people — and they want to have their ads associated with the kind of content we produce.
Those things remain true. The tough part of our business is the vaporization of classified advertising due to Craigslist, and the migration of national retail advertising to Google and Facebook.
What can you do about it? That’s very simple: You can continue to subscribe, either in print or online. That’s the future of this business. We can build a sustainable future on that.
Without that, the government will go unwatched. And so will powerful people preying on innocent victims. Look no further than the Jeffrey Epstein case.