News Media
Dumbed down news drives down newspaper circulation
By Jerry Mazza
Online Journal Associate Editor

May 1, 2009, 00:20

USA TODAY reports that �total average daily circulation declined 7.1%% in the October-March period from the same six months in 2007-2008. The latest figure represents data from 395 daily US newspapers that reported in both the current and year-ago periods. . . . USA TODAY remains the No. 1 newspaper though it suffered the steepest circulation drop in the publication�s history.�

Biting the hand that feeds me these facts, I would say that USA TODAY�S number oneness is exactly the reason newspapers are declining.

USA TODAY attributes its decline to a drop-off in hotel occupancy due to the economic slump plus a December price increase for non-subscription copies. Does that give you a clue? It�s famous for the easy-to-read, non-investigative, non-challenging and totally bland as a hotel room�s wallpaper writing with lots of pictures to boot, duh. It is the antithesis of what journalism should be -- and the opposite of what the Internet is, rich with facts, opinions, theories, history, politics, blogs, websites, search engines, conspiracy theories, truth, lies and videotape, name it.

After all, people who read to begin with, newspapers in particular, are already higher on the intelligence chart, because they�re looking for information, i.e., the truth in print, a proactive not passive medium. As newspapers dumb down the truth, they may gain a transitory readership. In the long run, though, it�s the kiss of death. Many of those kinds of readers will abandon them at some point for something even dumber.

The only newspaper in the top 25 to show a slight circulation increase is The Wall Street Journal, which under Rupert Murdoch�s heavy hand has gotten smaller in size but larger in type, with shorter stories, and less polysyllabic writing. The KISS theory, Keep It Simple, Stupid, has applied in abundance to high finance, the opposite of those incredibly complex derivatives that broke the back of the economy, duh. Maybe there�s a correlation.

If you check Murdoch�s other gem, the New York Post, it was once a brilliantly liberal newspaper, with the likes of journalist, columnist, novelist, short story writer Pete Hamill, the literate and long-sentenced Murray Kempton, muckraker- extraordinaire Drew Pearson, Eleanor Roosevelt, Max Lerner, Eric Sevareid, and theatre critic Richard Watts, Jr. That Post was to journalism what Sid Caesar�s writing team, which included Dick Cavett, Woody Allen, Danny and Neil Simon, Lucille Kallen, Mel Brooks, Michael Stewart and Mel Tolkin, was to comedy. Gangbusters!

Murdoch also brought his heavy hand to television, where he�s given us Fox Network News, America�s dumbest talking heads, from Bill O�Reilly on down to Sean Hannity, surrounded by whirling bits of sound-enhanced animation. The news segments are aired in the morning, fewer major stories are covered, and only from the far right not their touted �fair and balanced� point of view. The same stories are then updated during the day. Like the Post, Fox manages to squeeze sex, tits and ass into their anchor ladies, and much frou-frou reporting about Hollywood stars, and as many murders as possible. I tried reading the Post at lunch today and a tabloid-like candid photo of Arlen Specter exiting a bathroom made me want to throw up.

Lest Mr. Murdoch think I�m picking on him, let me say the New York Time,s whose theme line for years was �All the news that�s fit to print,� is at the heart of its circulation loss. I read the Times online every day. And though the span of news coverage is impressive, somebody has more often than not decided what was really true about an article that was �not fit to print.� So it was Georgia that was invaded by Russia, not Russia retaliating for Georgia attacking East Ossetia, which was under Russia�s protection, while East Ossetia was experimenting with free statehood. And behind Georgia was the CIA and Israel stirring up trouble and arming it to further Balkanize the region to gain a toehold on oil and natural gas.

Nevertheless, Online Journal, The Wayne Madsen Report, Prison Planet and dozens of other worthy Internet outlets told the whole story, not what was �fit to print� for the establishment. What�s �fit to print� is the truth for its own inestimable value.

What�s more, the Internet inhales and blesses even non-journalist writers, organizations, causes, all of which seem to have a deeper understanding of politics, economics, life, death, and the New World Order than your average newspaper. The Internet provides its writers as well with a chance to tell the truth about what they feel without the ordinary time, space and editorial (censorial) constraints. The closest TV comes to the Internet is cable�s MSNBC, Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow. Bill Maher is still a standup comedian who won�t touch 9/11 and thinks saying �mother fucker� twelve times a show is how to talk truth to power. Not.

Print versus Internet coverage

As President Obama, the ultimate media Muppet, reached his 100th day in office, the story was covered copiously. Time (which is also dumping along with the magazine business) gave us an article, Joe Klein on the President�s Impressive Performance Thus Far. Picked up from the magazine, it ran online as well, perhaps the only hope for newspapers and magazines, their online editions. Yet, it still was that namby-pamby �wow, the president is doing a terrific job stuff,� with not a critical look at the eye-sores. Read it and see for yourself.

The online Wall Street Journal story, taken from the paper, was Gerald Seib�s An Engaged, Yet Elusive, President. The writing was somewhat better, had a sharper eye, and pegged Obama as �elusive,� i.e. regarding what he really believes. Yet neither of these two and a bunch of other online/mainstream media articles have the clout of just one of the many Internet-originated articles I�ve seen. The Center for Constitutional Rights� 100 Days to Restore the Constitution: Assessment stopped me. What follows is a borrowed page to give you an idea of the writing, the detail, the moral standard, the wallop of this article.

The First 100 Days of the Obama Administration: Small Glimmers of Hope, but Little Real Change

�The first 100 days of the Obama administration presented a historic opportunity to restore the Constitution after the Bush administration�s systematic attempts to dismantle it, right by right, while ignoring international human rights standards. Yet, despite several strong steps, the Obama presidency has failed to live up to its promises in many areas of critical importance, including human rights, torture, rendition, secrecy and surveillance.

In the 2008 elections, the people of the United States resoundingly rejected the Bush administration legacy of torture, warrantless surveillance and a seemingly endless expansion of executive power under the rubric of the �war on terror.� What remained to be seen, however, was the political willingness and commitment of the Obama administration to not only promise hope and change, but to take concrete action to free the United States, its people and the world of the attacks on civil liberties and other human rights over the past 8 years -- and beyond -- and to restore the Constitution and the freedoms and rights it promises.

The Center for Constitutional Rights is committed to a vision of social justice that requires resolute action to restore and expand the Constitution. The Center has taken action accordingly -- from its numerous legal cases challenging attacks on dissent, unlawful detention, extraordinary rendition, torture and other abuses, to its advocacy and education work addressing those same issues -- in order to support existing movements and build a national movement for change.

In its first 100 days, the Obama administration has not lived up to its promises of hope and change. The record is contradictory and shows the critical task that lies ahead if we are to push this administration to honor those promises.

The future will judge the Obama administration based on how it handles these challenges. The president must initiate a significant rollback of executive power, far greater than that so far embraced by the administration, and hold high level Bush officials accountable for the crimes they committed.

The intention of this report on the first 100 days of the Obama administration -- tracked against CCR�s 100 Days goals for President Obama -- is to assess where it has made progress and where it has merely paused or even sustained Bush policies and to provide a guide to moving real change forward. The Obama administration can indeed fulfill its promise -- by creating a historic precedent for the rule of law, reestablishing the Constitution and clearly acknowledging -- despite 8 years of assertions of imperial power -- that presidential power does not include automatic immunity for criminal acts.�

No punches were pulled on Obama�s disregard of Constitutional issues. There was no equivocating, no attempt to ameliorate the faint-at-heart for the truth.

Powerful use of graphics

What�s more, the article compared each of the president�s campaign promises regarding repairing Constitutional rights along with his post-election actions. It was presented in a unique graphic manner from subject to subject, i.e., �Prosecutions and Accountability: Incomplete,� �Ending Torture: An Unfinished Promise,� �Ending Unlawful Detention and Extraordinary Rendition: Early Hopes Fading Fast,� �Abolishing Preventive Detention: Dangerous Silence,� �Protecting Dissent: Action Needed� and so on. On each and every issue the rating was echoed with a bold stamp: �Incomplete,� �Unfinished Promise,� �Early Hopes Fading Fast,� �Dangerous SILENCE,� �ACTION NEEDED.� It underscored the well-researched content between campaign illusion and post-election reality.

These authors took the trouble to dig deep for the real information. Secondly, they used the power of graphics to bring that information forward. Thirdly, their conclusions were not compromised. That�s the difference.

But then the Internet abounds with websites, journals, reports and blogs that present first-source news, commentary, opinion, news and history you simply won�t find anywhere else. Read the CCR piece for starters. You�ll come away smarter not dumber than you were before about Obama and constitutional issues. And that�s why the Internet is alive, well and kicking, and newspapers and network news are tanking. One is giving you truth, the other some sodden form of infotainment, though they barely fulfill that promise. They are eye-wash. Truth is eye-clearing. That�s my simple message. Go for the real thing, Internet news.

What newspapers and magazines do have are tremendous news-gathering organizations, literally world-wide, including wire services, whose power is being squandered by the need for political correctness, currying favor to the political establishments, to shareholder profitability, to bottom-line thinking, competition for market share and advertising, thus subsuming editorial content to make nice to everyone, offend no one, so they�ll all buy the advertisers� products.

Consider that the earliest news-telling and history were oral, came from inside a live human being�s memory, evolved into the epic poetry of Homer and other poets, into scripture, and, subsequently, writers of history. The Internet has a good deal of that head-heart-and-soul-felt honesty and intensity, from perceptive bloggers of all ages to top-level news writers looking for a freer outlet for their work. The Internet also has the ability to deliver film and video clips, to have face to faces, Facebook, YouTube, even audio and visual dialogue and with others (if your computer has the last features), to let the viewer/reader participate interactively.

In short, the past, which includes print, television, film and recording, has been inhaled by the computer and expanded expression-wise, worldwide by the Internet to create a more enlightened world community. Its future is what�s happening now. Perhaps its greatest strength is that it more aptly expresses the democratic notion of free speech and freedom of the press. As for newspapers and mainstream media, if they continue to dumb themselves down, I think of the line in Bob Dylan�s song I�m Alright, Ma (I�m Only Bleeding), �That he not busy being born is busy dying.�

Jerry Mazza is a freelance writer living in New York City. Reach him at His new book, State Of Shock: Poems from 9/11 on� is available at, Amazon or

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