Without us, who would pester legislators about pay raises?


POSTED: Wednesday, March 25, 2009

When President Barack Obama broke with tradition and skipped a party Washington journalists throw every year, Arnold Schwarzenegger had an explanation.

“;He's just not that into you,”; quipped the California governor, referencing a recent movie title and a line from the television series “;Sex and the City.”;

If you were to note recent reports, you might get the idea that, like Obama, lots of other people aren't into the news media, or, more specifically, the segment that produces the inky publication plopped at your doorstep every day.

There's no disputing that newspapers in America are struggling. Industry journals, Web sites and newspapers themselves lately read like obituary columns for dailies or lists of endangered species, likening the San Francisco Chronicle to palila birds and the Tucson Citizen to Hawaiian yellow-faced bees.

If they haven't already gone under, newspapers are shedding editions for online-only versions and, as many businesses in these economically depressed times, filing for bankruptcy and handing out pink slips.

Until recent years, there hadn't been much tea and sympathy for shuttered newspapers because in many cities and towns, there were other publications to pick up the slack. (And there was always television to report events, albeit focused mainly on “;film at 11”; coverage.)

These days, however, most cities have only one newspaper, or a regional variant, as advertising — which pays the bills — slips to the Internet or other communications media, or disappears altogether as the businesses that bought them dissolve in a yawning economic black hole.

Hawaii's been a bit more fortunate, in part because the islands' separations require newspapers to concentrate on home turf. Honolulu also continues to support two newspapers, but both have had to regroup to sustain themselves.

It's fair to say that newspapers have been slow to respond to the challenges of the Internet, that the financial model that helped them thrive had not adjusted to readers' drift to the Web, that they had not figured a practicable way to capitalize on the growth of their Web audience and the potential for ad revenue.

What's not fair is to say people aren't reading newspapers any more when their subscribers, though fewer, total more than 50 million nationwide and their free Web pages attract as many as 10 times more every day.

It's also not fair to say that newspapers aren't needed because news is available on the Internet. This belief sidesteps the fact that the news on the Internet, through blogs, Google, Yahoo or whatever aggregator, mostly originates from a news organization, whether it be the Washington Post or the Maui News or the Star-Bulletin.

There are a few electronic-only enterprises that produce original reporting, but they mostly aim for broader coverage, not the nuts and bolts of county councils and zoning commissions that are essential for communities to understand what's going on in their smaller world.

Say what you will about journalists being one step below used-car salesmen on the totem pole of trust, which, incidentally, I've always thought unfairly maligns sales people.

Readers might think they're not into reporters, copy editors, opinion writers or photographers, but most of these bearers of information, these messengers of the good, the bad, the weird and the funny are into them.

Besides, who would hound state legislators about their 36 percent pay raises?


Cynthia Oi can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).