Many Wisconsin Newspapers Homogenized, Journalism Suffers

One of the upsides with layovers when flying is stopping at the business in the airport which always sells newspapers and candy. It is of interest to note what lands above the fold in various locales as it gives an insight into what local news operations understand to be pressing news, or what concerns local readers.

But with the downsizing of newspapers and the desire by some owners to place profits above the call for serious journalism and information, there is a truly sad outcome taking place for this profession. And for the readers.

Wisconsin is not immune from the problem.

Take a look at six newspapers from Wednesday, April 6, 2021, published in central and Northeastern portions of Wisconsin. You can click on images to make them bigger, but it does not make them better.

The above newspapers are owned by either USA Today Network or Gannett. That combination owns more than 100 newspaper and digital properties across the United States. If you think the front pages of the newspapers are repetitive you can be assured the same is true for their digital side, too.

What is equally sad is the skeletal OP-Ed pages that have long been a place for community dialogue and strong editorials from the newspaper. When local voices are not given space to opine means that only the ones with a larger platform or microphone are heard.

While investors in the companies that buy up newspapers reap financial rewards the newspaper industry suffers. What constitutes local news and the neighborhood feel and tone of small-market papers shrinks as fewer reporters are employed and too few inches for local news are provided. Cookie-cutter operations, as seen from the examples above, can far too easily spread across a state.

I would strongly argue that such undercutting of newspapers weakens our democracy. Keeping local officials in check with diligent journalism, allowing for the local voters to know what is happening at the school board or county level, and investigating concerns that are at times, not a visual story for television all are reasons we should have robust newspapers.

I would argue that traditional news sources, where facts and standards are applied to the profession, are needed more than ever. Social media, where too many inaccurate and misleading stories abound, requires an antidote. And when it comes to local news there is an absolute need for more coverage and higher standards.

What we are witnessing in too many communities with hollowed-out newspapers is really sad. Is it any wonder there are fewer newspaper readers?

And so it goes.

Hope In Horrific War

These two front pages of newspapers allowed me a bit of an uplift in an otherwise harsh day of war headlines from Eastern Europe. I know there are truly kind and warm-hearted people in the world, but over the past three weeks the horrors of war does make it seem the better angels of our nature are so far removed. So these front pages made me most glad.

From Around World: Front Pages Of Newspapers Cover Russian Bloody, Heartless Invasion

Today I post a random selection of front pages of newspapers from around the world as they report on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The papers are not aligned in any certain order. They each, however, give gravity to the issue of our time. They each convey a news story that touches, angers, and compels us to act locally to demonstrate our resolve to stand with Ukraine.

Local Newspapers Vs. Hedge Funds, Damaging Democracy

As a lifelong reader of newspapers, (starting as a boy with the Stevens Point Journal which came to our home via the mail) and with a firm understanding that reporters and journalism are a foundation of democracy comes this story from Sunday’s 60 Minutes.

I have been posting for years about the woes of the newspaper industry in the digital media age. I have written about the revenue from the industry being cut in half between 2008 and 2018 because of a ruinous decline in print advertising. And to the gut of the matter that means during that same time frame newsroom employment declined 25%. (Pew Research)

We are in fact going to suffer tremendously for the loss of accountability that the papers provide to insure our government has journalistic oversight, a loss of a daily record of events that makes for historical documentation, and a sense of commonality that allows us to have some overall reference point as a nation.

I say this because daily morning newspapers that ferret out corruption and investigate issues untouchable to the average citizen is an essential component for how we are made aware of the world.

Sunday evening this overall story was all brought home to the nation with a segment on the nation’s longest-running newsmagazine type television show.

Newspaper industry in state of decline: not exactly a stop-the-presses headline. For two decades now — owing largely to the loss of advertising revenue to Facebook and Google — fewer and fewer Americans get their news, comics and sports from all those gazettes and tribunes and journals. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. There’s an additional threat: hedge funds and other financial firms that now own nearly a third of the daily papers in America.

And these new owners are often committed not to headlines and deadlines, but to bottom lines. One fund, in particular, has been called by some in the industry a “vulture,” bleeding newspapers dry. It all prompts the question: as local newsrooms and local news coverage shrivel up, to what extent does democracy shrink with it?

Behind the marching band and baton twirlers, at the annual 4th of July parade in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, you’ll find a one-man band: reporter Evan Brandt, snapping photos, taking notes, and gathering quotes.

For the last 24 years, he’s chronicled this community of 23,000 for the local newspaper, the Mercury, which at one time had dozens of reporters. Now, Brandt is literally the last reporter standing in Pottstown.

Today’s First Draft Of History: British Front Pages Of Ukraine Under Russian Attack

The front pages of British Sunday newspapers tell the story of the anger and pain of the Russin invasion. Newspapers are the first draft of history.

Newspaper Front Pages From Britain To Russia Show War In Ukraine, Russia Invades Sovereign Nation

This morning I post a number of front pages of newspapers from Britain to Russia that I pulled from the scores I looked at online. They tell a story, even if the language is not one we understand. The gravity of this news of a sovereign nation being invaded is most foul and outrageous. As long-time readers are aware I often post front pages to add to a moment of history that deserves recognition. The arrogance and impudence of Putin is such a time.

The world stands with Ukraine.

Aaron Rodgers COVID-19 Editorial Cartoons

This week Wisconsin has had more than its fair share of the truly absurd.

Aaron Rodgers tested positive for COVID-19 and then the press reported the bombshell news that he refused to be vaccinated. In a radio interview, Rodgers stated that while not taking the scientific vaccines he does ingest a horse deworming agent. He also launched into the “woke mob” and said they were trying to “cancel” him. What galled this blogger the most was his attempt to use the memory of Martin Luther King Jr. to confirm why he should not be more conscientious towards the larger community when it comes to stopping the spread of the virus. My jaw surely dropped at my desk when that nugget came through my speakers.

Rodgers actually said the slain civil rights leader would have agreed that he had a “moral obligation to object to unjust rules and rules that make no sense.”

To liken King’s fight for justice and civil rights from housing to voting with a mere mandate from the NFL regarding vaccines and mask-wearing underscores the lack of depth Rodgers has for history, his selfish nature, and lack of character.

Clearly, Rodgers and his PR team missed their much-needed meeting prior to the radio chat. One has to wonder what consultant will need to construct a way to clean up his image after that all-out fiasco. Maybe wrapping Christmas presents for an afternoon at the local Salvation Army. Plus a very generous personal check.

The Rodgers episode has opened conversations about the virus in a loud and determined way across the state, and nation. My husband, James, and I remarked that it has been almost two years since we were at a restaurant. We have not traveled other than short afternoon jaunts for apples or fall produce. We have not rented our second-floor Victorian ($2,000 a month) for two years due to concerns about the virus. We have cousins, a niece in Central Wisconsin, and friends who are nurses and fully understand they have been stressed and over-worked for at least 20 months. We have not undertaken larger projects, nor spent the money to help stir the economy, due to not wanting to interact with others who very well may have the same mindset as Rodgers.

So when the state gets verbally exercised over the Rodgers matter it is based on the fact, that with the vaccines we should have already won this battle. We have the means to do so. All that is lacking is the willpower to achieve the end result. So when the top story in the state is a guy who has a large platform from which to do good and chooses to do exactly the opposite….yes, folks are properly ticked off.

Here then is an offering of how newspaper editorial pages view the Rodgers affair. Please note that Phil Hands, the creative cartoonist at the Wisconsin State Journal and always a favorite here, makes the point with perfect clarity.

Reason # (Countless) Why Newspapers Matter To Nation

Sunday morning it was most obvious, again.

Often the Sunday newspapers are the edition when powerful stories are reported on page one, or a series starts that examines a topic that is not possible to thoroughly address in only one day.

The Washington Post blasted its way to the must-read category with the start of their international investigation series of powerful people on the world stage using secretive offshore system financing to hide billions of dollars from tax authorities, creditors, and criminal investigators.

The story is simply devastating to the likes of King Abdullah II of Jordan. It is reported that he secretly spent more than $106 million on lavish homes in the U.S. and Britain. Nearly $70 million was paid for three adjacent properties overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Southern California, forming one of the largest bluff-top complexes in the celebrity enclave of Malibu.

What is the undercurrent to this particular case is that Jordan, a close U.S. ally, has been roiled in recent years by public discontent over alleged government corruption.

I would urge my readers to spend some time with the news story as it is well researched and written.

But the reason for this post comes with a question. Where would a story like this fit into the world of television news? 

With time limits and the way consultants micro-manage content the series would never find its way on the news, with sufficient substance, so to allow viewers any idea of the scope of the financial manipulation involved.

While the facts of the story about international intrigue matter, so does the fact that newspapers, themselves, matter. And we all need to be mindful of what is happening to the newspaper profession.

I have been posting for years about the woes of the newspaper industry in the digital media age. I have written about the revenue from the industry being cut in half between 2008 and 2018 because of a ruinous decline in print advertising. And to the gut of the matter that means during that same time frame newsroom employment declined 25%. (Pew Research)

We are in fact going to suffer tremendously for the loss of accountability that the papers provide to insure our government has journalistic oversight, a loss of a daily record of events that makes for historical documentation, and a sense of commonality that allows us to have some overall reference point as a nation.

I say this because the morning newspapers that ferret out corruption and investigates issues untouchable to the average citizen is an essential component for how we are made aware of the world. 

As the Post made most clear this morning.

But let us consider this from a local perspective.

What would happen if local newspaper reporters were not at their jobs to hold our state leaders accountable. I can only assume that the Speaker of the Wisconsin State Assembly would snicker if a blogger showed up to investigate a legislative scandal.  On the other hand with pen and notepad in hand, a reporter from the Wisconsin State Journal sends a message when entering a room with a question and a barrel of ink. (OK, the ink part is dated, but your blogger came from the nostalgic era when reading a newspaper left a darkness to one’s fingers.)

The point of this post is that there is always a real level of concern about the need to monitor government and policies. That can not be done on the cheap, or by amateurs.  After all, while many like to grouse about the press, let us not forget they are professionals, and do much to keep us free and safe.

Today a national newspaper made that point most clearly.

And so it goes.