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Saturday, October 22, 2016

Newspapers have become the bullied schoolkid of American journalism.

Meaning that, as a small child will surrender his lunch money to bigger kids and spend the noon hour watching other people eat, so have newspapers wound up in the ignominious position of surrendering our product — information — to Internet and cable outlets and watching them reap handsome profits from aggregating and re-reporting it while we furlough employees and cut back home delivery. They take our product and kick our butts with it.

So it was with no small interest that I received last week’s news of the sale of The Washington Post. After 80 years of stewardship by the storied Graham family, the Post will become the property of Jeff Bezos, the man who founded Sale price: $250 million.

But what happened last week represents more than a transfer of assets. No, it embodies a generational shift that will, let us fervently hope, resurrect an industry that has somehow managed the odd paradox of being vital, yet moribund.

To put that another way: One gets tired of providing the boots with which someone else kicks one’s backside.

If that state of affairs represents a humiliation for the newspaper business, it should be regarded warily even by those who draw their paychecks from other industries. They should ask themselves what will happen to the electronic media that use and aggregate our product in the event we are no longer around to create it. And if that information is no longer available anywhere, what happens to the people who need and depend on it?

It is not often remarked upon, not much appreciated and little understood, but newspapers — yes, I mean the old-fashioned business of printing on dead trees accounts of things that happened yesterday — are the foundation of American journalism.

  • Dominick Vila

    The only positive thing I can say about the sale of the Washington Post and other newspapers is that it may save the printed media from extinction. The advent of technology has rendered newspapers useless, the same way it is impacting other sectors of our economy that failed to adapt to the new way we do business. Their problem has little to do with the quality of the material they publish, but with the fact that they are no longer cost effective and that there are alternate ways to get the same information instantly and often at no additional cost.

    • PissedoffinAZ

      But as the article points out, those dinosaur papers are the ones creating the product. Jeff Bezos sells products made by other people. Those people still get their cut. That is the difference between selling goods and selling information.

  • PissedoffinAZ

    This would not be popular, but perhaps there needs to be a surcharge placed on the bills we pay for our ISP, much as there is a charge for certain federal services. The real problem would be divvying up the money between the papers.

  • Sep_Arch

    Unfortunately, I do not think this will turn out well. The news will be whatever Bezos’ personal right wing politics allows, stripping the paper of the critical function it had hoped to save. No one benefits when oligarchs start printing their own press.

  • Dominick Vila

    The economic problems afflicting the newspaper media in the USA and other parts of the world are caused by the emergence of electronic media, which provides instant news free of charge. Advertising and coupons are keeping many newspaper alive, but all are struggling and had no choice but to either closed their doors or sell their souls to the highest bidder. A few elitists invest in newspapers to preserve something they value, but the majority of purchasers do it to use the paper media as a tool to advance their financial and ideological goals.