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April 9, 2009 / Toby Dayton

Daily Newspapers Deserve Continued Vilification

I am not sure whether I should be delighted or disgruntled that Diggings was not included in Paul Dailing’s mocking of bloggers that write about the death of the dailies. It’s actually a very amusing piece, and my initial reaction was that there is more truth to his meta-commentary than not. I have actually intended at times over the past year or so to temper my focus on the dailies for some of the same reasons, and I am clearly guilty of some of what Dailing cites in his diatribe. Without question, there is a growing cacophony about the death of newspapers and the resulting impact on healthy communities and a functioning democracy, and a portion of it does very little to move the conversation forward. But after thinking about it for a bit, I have become even firmer in my belief that the commentary, even as hyperbolic as it may be at times, is not only justified and deserved, but constructive and positive as well.

First of all, anytime that a major industry implodes and is at serious risk of disappearing altogether, observation, commentary, judgement, fascination, and reflection are all entirely justified. This is especially true given both the speed of the devastation in this case and how vital newspapers have been for the past 200 years or so to the fabric of our communities and the nation as a whole. An ongoing, very public, wide-ranging dialogue that takes place in blogs, in other media, around the dinner table, and in classrooms raises awareness about what is happening, why it happened, the ramifications, and what should be done in light of those consequences.

Secondly, when such a massive opportunity is blown so badly, by people with so much arrogance and so much money, with such magnitude, all the while in slow motion over a period of a decade or so, there is no amount of ridicule, scorn, or derision, that I would classify as too much. While there are absolutely some exceptions, people like Sam Zell, Brian Tierney, and Dean Singleton, not to mention private equity groups like Avista Capital Partners and others that thought they were making brilliant investments, deserve all the abuse they’re getting. I’d be hard-pressed to think of an industry that was, collectively, characterized by such stupidity, myopia, and hubris. And as evidenced by Dean Singleton’s (current Chair of the Associated Press) and  Rupert Murdoch’s recent outcry against Google and other aggregators for undermining the industry’s business model, the industry-wide self-flagellation is not going to end anytime soon. This is an industry that continues asking, even begging, for more vilification. And they will (and should) keep receiving it loudly and publicly and incessantly.

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