The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance

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Shrimp 'n Grits

Credibility of journalism plunges with circulation
Lee Walton

Over the past two decades, newspaper circulation has been plummeting down hill with no bottom in sight. Ever increasing competition from cable television, talk radio, the Internet, and, most recently, telephone news service has scattered the traditional audience of newspapers to these vastly more convenient and accessible media sources. Adding to this ever-increasing problem is the realization that the traditional newspaper-advertising model is obsolete – it’s not interactive, time efficient, and does not narrowly target the demands of today’s quality consumer. Declining circulation has manifested itself in the adoption of a more economical tabloid format, smaller text, shrinking news space, more advertising per page, newsroom staff cutbacks and non-traditional, short-term marketing gimmicks. Such desperate acts increasingly reinforce the readers’ suspicions that newspapers are now motivated more by profit than quality journalism or caring about the best interest or their readers.

The inability of newspapers to successfully modify their delivery model in response to changing consumer behavior has forced many newspapers to change their product to reduce production costs while still attempting to retain an ever-decreasing circulation. The cascading implications of reduced profits and increased production costs have forced many newspapers to drastically cutback in newsrooms, both in terms of staff and the total time available to collect, analyze and report quality news. These trends are reflected in a growing lack of journalistic professionalism and reduced media credibility now expressed by a growing majority of adult readers. Increasingly, the newspaper journalists are viewed as less professional, more personally biased, less moral and more prone to cover up their mistakes.

Newspaper credibility and believability are now more manipulated by local political and business advertising pressures than ever before. As news media outlet choices increase and competition for advertising revenues becomes more acute, local newspapers become increasingly susceptible to the pressures of “checkbook journalism” to survive. These political and market forces often act in unison to apply financial leverage on newspaper owners and editors to manipulate how local news events are reported in order to influence public opinion. Such thinly veiled actions create a moral disconnect between the newspaper and its readers and foster beliefs that the local press is either covering up critical facts, over or under reporting locally important issues to benefit its political and business patrons, or deluding itself. As journalistic credibility is further eroded by such actions, circulation continues to decline in a conjoined spiral of rationalization, profit motivation, and self-interest.

As media competition increases and reduced newspaper circulation continues, economic pressures will increasingly test the remaining moral remnants of what was once considered one of the most trusted, credible professions in America. One thing is certain – print journalism will never again occupy the lofty position it held in the last century.

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