In Defense of Newspapers

Commentator Steve Lopez has spent three decades as a newspaper man. He'd like to offer a defense of his profession — before it's eaten by new media. Steve Lopez is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Knight Ridder, the second-largest newspaper chain in the country, may very well be sold in the coming weeks. Its largest shareholder has demanded that the company be put up for sale even though its newspapers are all turning a profit. To commentator Steve Lopez, this is just another sign of the decline of the newspaper business.

STEVE LOPEZ:

I don't know if you've heard the news, but I'm dying. That's right. I'm a newspaperman. Vultures are circling as I speak. I'm vinyl records. I'm VHS. I'm the Pony Express. In lieu of flowers, please buy me a drink.

They say the cause of imminent death is the flight of readers and advertisers to cable television and the Internet, but let's not overlook the self-inflicted wounds. In a 30-year career I've worked for seven newspapers and three corporate conglomerates referred to by some of my peers as the evil axis: Gannett, Knight Ridder and the Tribune Company.

Despite gargantuan profits by those behemoths, the wizards in charge have skimped on promoting their own newspapers. Wait a minute. Aren't they in the business of convincing companies they've got to advertise to survive? Yes, I understand we're in the midst of a vast reinvention of the media universe and some of these forces are irreversible. But if our ship is going down, can't we at least put up a better fight? Make some waves? Send up a flare?

I can't figure out why but no newspaper executive has ever followed my suggestion on how to properly promote the product. Here's what I'd do in my TV ad. A guy is walking down the street, all right. He comes to a newsrack with a fabulous array of headlines and it stops him in his tracks. Now the guy reaches into his pocket for two quarters. Two quarters. What else can you buy for 50 cents? The moment he plunks the coins into the box you see a shot of our team on the scene in Baghdad, a local politician in handcuffs after a big Page One expose, the sports column is going toe-to-toe with the Dodger owner, the car columnist test-driving the sporty new convertible and the perfect shot of the prep stud on a touchdown sprint. I'd point out in my TV ad that 50 cents buys you a seasoned editorial staff of 900 people covering every corner of the world and you also get the TV listings, the box scores, the crossword puzzle and enough coupons to cut the cost of dinner in half.

For these reasons and more, you're going to miss us when we're gone. Wait till all you've got to choose from is one of the thousands of fly-by-night Internet news sites or one of the millions of blogs posted by unapologetically biased hacks who haven't left the house in five years. Boy, are you going to miss us.

If newspapers die, you'll still have radio, sure. But you might also find yourself fiddling with a laptop that keeps crashing the moment it finds the story you want. Even in the best-case scenario, you can't pass the A section to your wife or husband and take the sports or entertainment page to the bathroom. Divorce rates will spike. As for you older folks out there, imagine trying to read the news of the new Medicare prescription plan on a cell phone screen.

All of this unpleasantness can be avoided, you know. And the cost to you? Two quarters, 50 cents, the last great bargain in America.

BLOCK: Steve Lopez is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times.

MICHELE NORRIS (Host): You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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