When I first heard that McClatchy was going to own both the Charlotte Observer and the News and Observer, my enthusiasm was muted. That was almost two years ago, and most of the impacts predicted have come true. Here's a memo from the Big Cheeses to employees of the N&O and the Charlotte Observer on the heels of McClatchy's recenty announced layoffs.
To: Employees, the Charlotte Observer and the News & Observer of Raleigh
Subj: New areas of collaboration
Date: June 16, 2008
The newsrooms of the Charlotte Observer and Raleigh News & Observer have worked well together during the two years since the Observer became part of the McClatchy Company. That collaboration clearly has benefited readers of both newspapers.
Left to their own devices, the current owners of American newspapers are indeed likely to consummate the suicide pact they have entered into with their investors. That should scare the hell out of Americans who recognize that Jefferson was right when he said that good journalism is essential to democracy. It should also get citizens asking the right questions: If newspapers really are fading away, what comes next?
As a journalism school graduate and the husband of a professor at UNC Chapel Hill's J-school, I have a soft spot in my heart for newspapers. So when I came across the above paragraph in The Nation magazine, it really got my attention - especially since it referenced Phil Meyer, a friend and another professor in the J-school who wrote The Vanishing Newspapers.
Newspapers may be the dinosaurs of America's new-media age, hulking behemoths that cost too much to prepare and distribute and that cannot seem to attract young--or even middle-aged--readers in the numbers needed to survive. They may well have entered the death spiral that Philip Meyer, in his recent book The Vanishing Newspaper, predicts will conclude one day in 2043 as the last reader throws aside the final copy of a newspaper.
All of this, of course, creates a real conundrum. Newspapers have always had obscene profit margins, and as the corporate owners seek to sustain those margins, they've resorted to cost-cutting with a vengeance. That's why the Charlotte Observer and the N&O increasing swap stories written by over-extended reporters who don't have the time or inclination to ask that next hard question. The two papers even share Babs Barrett, their Washington correspondent.
When Barbara Barrett, Washington correspondent for O-No!, showed up on the scene, I wasn't impressed. I remember when she single-handedly declared North Carolina's coastal population in favor of off-shore drilling based on a couple of sketchy interviews with North Carolina Congressmen from the Party of Torture and Greed. So imagine my surprise today when she actually digs in on the story behind the story to deliver the hard, crushing truth about the many failings of Elizabeth Dole.
For months, critics within her party have said Dole, chairwoman of the committee that manages GOP Senate races nationwide, hasn't measured up in her role as the party's chief recruiter, coach and fundraiser. Two weeks before the November mid-term election, her committee remains behind its Democratic counterpart in fundraising and, suddenly, there are red states at risk that the GOP never thought it might have to defend.
The whole article is worth reading, but I want to focus on the hammer with which we will be beating Liddy Dole silly over the next two years: she could care less about North Carolina.
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