Two Words On Why Newpapers Are Dying: They Suck

For some reason, I get the Sacramento Bee delivered every Saturday even though I didn’t order it and have little respect for the paper. Nevertheless, I noticed a front-page article on China’s “tough talk” on the U.S. fiscal situation. Penned by Kevin G. Hall, this piece reminded me why I don’t read the Sac Bee. Specifically, the following passage left me incredulous:

Much of its [China] vast foreign currency reserves are in U.S. dollars. If the dollar collapsed or U.S. inflation spiked, the value of those assets could decline sharply. Those scenarios seem highly unlikely but aren’t impossible.” [emphasis added]

So this journalist thinks a scenario where the U.S. dollar collapses or inflation spikes is “highly unlikely.” Now, no one can predict the future with absolute certainty but no matter what actually develops, the odds of a USD collapse or high inflation are much better than “highly unlikely.” Is this Hall guy kidding me? In fact, it’s “highly unlikely” we go back to daily mocha frappucinos, Hummers and McMansions for everyone.

Is it any wonder that Sacramento is a primo ground-zero in the housing collapse, with a paper like the Sacramento Bee idiotically cheerleading most every step of the way?

With all the consolidation in newsrooms, it’s not surprising to see Hall’s email address listed at This suggests that Hall’s piece originated from the Washington DC bureau and was probably published across the McClatchy line of papers, not just Sacramento.

Much ink and bits have been spilt over the demise of the newspaper industry but from a user standpoint, the answer is simple. The two main functions of a newspaper to readers are the following:

  1. Tell readers what happened.
  2. Provide readers with useful information and insights so readers can make informed decisions regarding their lives.

The first function has been adequately covered by the media. Newspapers tell readers what happened yesterday but the internet can update readers on events from the last ten minutes. Obviously, this is a huge gap to overcome. Additionally, depth of coverage is an illusory advantage for newspapers. Much of the “in-depth coverage” is not objective, facts-based discussion but basically, opining and editorializing disguised as news. This trend has only worsened as commercial woes pressure staffing levels in the newsroom.

The second function hasn’t been as well-covered by the media but it is a general version of what the Daily Show and Jon Stewart have been complaining about regarding CNBC. Stewart has famously taken exception to CNBC after Rick Santelli blew off a scheduled appearance on the Daily Show to explain his diatribe against all the “losers” struggling with their mortgages. Stewart’s basic point is that these “losers” base their decisions partially on coverage by financial media outlets like CNBC and the newspapers.

Much like the scrutiny of G. W. Bush’s case for war in Iraq, hard questions regarding the housing and credit bubble were few and far between. Maybe there were a few mentions of some exuberance but these were marginalized. Also, the key to media is repetition so an occasional warning is barely useful. None of these outlets wanted to pop the bubble that brought in advertising revenue.

I do read a few newspapers but always with a skeptical mind. Unless the paper offers specialized information (like the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times or your local business journal), readers’ best bet for true knowledge and insight resides elsewhere.

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