Saturday, December 27, 2008

COMMENTARY: Susan Estrich is wrong

by Sam Mela

An editorial piece by Susan Estrich titled "Why we need newspapers" appeared in the online edition of the Miami Herald this morning. See

According to Ms. Estrich
The truth, whether you want to admit it or not, is that what drives public discourse today is still the work of the nation's top newspapers: The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and, yes, even my much snickered about Los Angeles Times. If they can't do their job, they won't be the only ones who suffer. All of us who depend on their reporters and editors will suffer, and so will the public discourse about important issues.

I don't agree with Ms. Estrich.

First, she's blurring the distinction between news gathering organizations and news publishing organizations.

Second, she lumped the Wall Street Journal in with the Washington Post, The New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times. Sloppy. That's like comparing a Honda Accord to a Ford Pinto. One survived and the other didn't.

Third, good news organizations will survive. They may restructure or they may be purchased, but capitalism keeps the good and discards the bad. These companies aren't Pravda. Their survival is not guaranteed by the government. Is that what Ms. Estrich wants? Or does she want the free market to decide? You know, the people who come to the door in their bathrobe with a cup of coffee in their hand and pick up the paper? No mention of them in her article.

Fourth, many of us are tired of the Tyranny of the Press. We cut off home delivery. We stopped patronizing news stands. In the last election, the press seemed to imply that there were only two choices -- (1) The Senator who voted for the bailout (McCain); and (2) The Senator who voted for the bailout (Obama). What about Ralph Nader? Ignored. What about Ron Paul? Ignored. What about Chuck Baldwin? Ignored. So much for the vaunted "public discourse" Ms. Estrich is flapping her arms about.

30 years ago, in Economics class, we learned about "entry barriers". Entry barriers and the economics of scale have allowed news organizations to publish a bland, biased, monolithic product for a long time. The public resented it, but they needed the sports page, the classifieds, the style page, and Dilbert; so they tolerated inferior news reporting and editorial bias. But recessions, like the one we are in now, have a cleansing effect in a capitalist economy. The weakest businesses fail, leaving a vacuum for stronger, fresher, more agressive and creative businesses to fill. That is exactly what is happening with the Newspaper industry.

I think it's a good thing.

Agree? Disagree? Write me.

No comments:

Post a Comment