No One Should Rejoice at Newspapers’ Decline

The newspaper where I used to work full-time, and where’ I’m still a contributing faith and values columnist, announced this week it was cutting more than 50 jobs. This was only the latest in a series of layoffs.

Like newspapers around the country, the Lexington Herald-Leader has been hammered by the perfect storm of woes: the explosion of the Internet, where people can get their news for free; the collapse of the economy, which has led to cutbacks and even bankruptcies among major advertisers.

The Herald-Leader‘s latest announcement produced glee among critics of mainstream journalism, most of whom seem to be political conservatives, and some of whom I assume would describe themselves as traditional Christians.

In various online venues, these folks practically were dancing on their keyboards. They seemed to think the newspaper’s problems were directly related to the stances taken by its editorial board, which tends to lean left of center on some issues. They claimed right-thinking readers had abandoned the paper in droves and caused its suffering. For them, the paper was getting its just comeuppance.

First, their diagnosis was factually wrong–the Herald-Leader has more readers than ever before, but increasingly they choose (not surprisingly) to read it without charge on the Internet instead of paying for subscriptions. This is true today of many publications of all political and cultural stripes. Every print publication I know of, newspaper or magazine, liberal or conservative, is scaling back.

Second, they overlooked the threat posed to all citizens by the decline of daily newspapers. The great bulk of news the Herald-Leader covers has nothing to do with the political stances of its editorial writers. A good daily newspaper serves as a watchdog on crooked politicians, abusive cops and dishonest businesses. It reports on street crimes, follows local sports teams and, yes, promotes church events. If newspapers collapse, everyone will suffer from the resulting vacuum of knowledge.

Finally, what irritated me most about this rejoicing was that many of the people who lost their jobs this week are dear friends of mine. They’re real-live human beings.

One was the woman who edited my religion columns. She’d recently added 20 or so members of the clergy to the roll of Herald-Leader bloggers. She’s a serious Christian from a Pentecostal upbringing, she’s got a toddler, and her husband recently was laid off from his job in another, unrelated industry.

Another victim was a guy who’s been a top-flight reporter and editor for 35 years. He’s battling health problems. He’s a lay leader at his Methodist church and among the finest people I know. When my wife was sick with cancer, he e-mailed me jokes to lift my spirits every Friday for five straight years.

I could go on, person by person. I love these journalists. They’ve been uniformly kind to me, even when they may have disagreed with my own public positions on politics or theology.

When I see dunderheads who don’t even know them celebrating their pain, I want to puke. The critics who’ve written those nasty Internet postings ought to be ashamed of themselves. Disagreeing with the Herald-Leader’s editorial positions or its coverage of University of Kentucky basketball is fine. That’s fair. But mocking the misfortune of decent, hard-working men and women who’ve lost their livelihoods is absolutely wicked.

 

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  1. Excellent, Paul. Journalism is a noble profession and to take potshots because of some perceived bias is foolish.

    March 28, 2009
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