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Simon says Newspapers should charge “aggregators” like Google and anyone who wants to read the paper online

28 March, 2009

Newspapers last bastion against political corruption, says creator of The Wire

In exclusive interview with the Guardian, writer David Simon expresses fears for newspapers’ future and accuses media owners of contempt

David Simon, creator of The Wire

the award-winning writer and producer launches a tirade against newspaper owners who, he says, showed “contempt for their product” and are now reaping the whirlwind. But he rejects the idea that newspapers should seek ways to embrace the new world of free information, arguing that they must urgently start charging money for content distributed online.

This exclusive is a bit self-serving because it opens and closes with  mention of the final season (of five) of  The Wire and ends with three short paragraphs about Simon’s current production.  The fact that Simon worked in the newspaper “industry” for over ten years doesn’t render him an expert in my view because  I have lived with someone who worked over 30 years as news writer, feature writer, and editor.

The newspaper business is dying because the people who bought and sold them stopped trying to “report” the news in a fair and balanced way.  Instead, they started prostituting themselves to every politician and businessman who wanted a little bit of free “publicity” – kind of like Simon is doing with the Guardian.  Newspapers were the main source of information for everyone before the television came along.  They were the only way people could learn what was going on in their cities and  counties.  As the papers grew larger, they began to report on state and world affairs.

Most editors in hometown papers knew their readers and tried to be fair and honest in their reporting.  But along the way, that tie was broken as newspapers became businesses.    The growth of the business produced a battle for readers and revenue.   Advertising became cruciall for survival; so did sensational headlines and stories, or fluff pieces about famous people or odd little occurrences.  Big business meant big corruption.  Newspaper owners wanted revenue, so they sided with the “shakers and movers”, the “winners,” and the advertisers.

When some of the shakers and movers started moving into the newspaper industry in order to make a fortune, not a living, the long slow slide downward began.  Men like Rupert Murdoch, Sam Zell and Jack Kent Cooke bought and sold papers as if they were just commodities, and usually they owned newspaper chains.  As long as a link in the chain made a good profit, it was safe; if not, costs were cut, expectations lowered, and then the paper was sold.  Sometimes the whole chain was sold.  Reporters and editors alike were laid off; the remaining staff was expected to work harder and still produce a good product.  At some point, producing a worthy product became impossible and readership dropped; they could rely on the glitz of the TV or the fast pace and easy reading on the computer.  Why pay money for an inferior product when the whole world was open to you on the internet?

Television reporting followed the same path, starting with respectable reporters like David Murrow and Walter Cronkite and ending with “commentators” showing us vivid images of disasters, or fires, or car chases, or cute little rescue puppies, and pretty women.  Television helped create and then satisfy the need for sensational entertainment.

The “business” killed itself and I am sorry to see it die, because a balanced and objective view of the world is  needed more now than ever before.   We get a glimpse of corruption in our government, our banks, our allies and we know it is the tip of the iceberg.  Who can we turn to for the truth?  Sorry, Simon, I don’t believe that the newspaper business or the television industry want to confront the real corruption eating its way through the heart of our country.

Oddly enough, The Wire is about corruption and the media, but Simon evidently thinks he made that story line up.

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