By Dave Lieber
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
There’s a recession in the U.S. economy, but a depression in the newspaper business.
Not a financial depression, but a mental one.
Everybody in the newsroom and in the executive suites is giving up.
Worse, nobody in the business is standing up on a chair and shouting at the top of their lungs:
YOU NEED US!
AS MUCH AS YOU SAY YOU HATE US, IF WE’RE GONE EVERY SCOUNDREL IN THE NATION WILL HAVE A FIELD DAY.
Resignation. Like one of those NIXON RESIGNS front pages hanging in the corridor of every newspaper in America. Who thought it would be us?
Molly Ivins said that she didn’t mind newspapers dying; she was angry, though, that they are committing suicide.
My newspaper goes to almost a quarter of a million households every day and many more on Sundays. More people than ever are reading my work on our Web site and a hundred more. By tenfold, we employ more in our newsroom than any TV or radio station.
We have influence. We can make or break an agenda in any area of society, and we try to make the right choices. Health care, poverty, immigration. Issues that matter to everyone.
People still read us. They care about what we write. They cut our stories out and send them to family members or hang them on the refrigerator. Sometimes, when we move them, they call us up or e-mail us asking where they can send money to help the folks we just wrote about.
Everybody says the newspaper is dying, but whenever a columnist goes shopping at the supermarket, somebody is likely to stop him or her and say, “I saw your column Sunday.”
On Election Day, politicians that we wrote critically about sometimes lose because readers were paying attention. They believed what we wrote because we proved to them time and again that we did our homework, didn’t take cheap shots and cared about the community.
Caring about the community. That’s not part of the who-what-when-where-why of journalism. But it’s no small thing. We go to events and listen to people and return phone calls and answer e-mails. We are so deep into the community we might as well be cops or delivery people.
Yeah, what we do matters.
The readers know it. But do we? Folks in the newsroom are losing faith. It doesn’t take much to throw a reporter, copy editor, graphic designer or mid-level editor into a tizzy. One little rumor and we can’t think straight for a week. And lately, with all the rumors (many of which turn out to be true), we haven’t been able to think straight for years.
Ten thousand industry jobs lost in 2008. That’s enough to cloud your thinking. Still, the nameplate on the newspaper — the brand — is a century or more in the making. The stock price doesn’t reflect it, but the name alone is worth millions. Add the remaining employees and their knowledge, and it’s priceless.
Yeah, we do what we do, and damn, we do it well. But why don’t we shout it to the world? It’s not like we don’t have access to the media.
“We shall not flag or flail. We shall go on to the end.… We shall never surrender.” — Sir Winston Churchill, 1940
The writer is founder of the NSNC Education Foundation. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org