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What's Wrong With Newspapers And The Pundits Who Write About Them
The Bulletin ^ | February 6, 2009 | Herb Denenberg

Posted on 02/06/2009 11:29:33 AM PST by jazusamo

I’m often reading the studies and punditry about what’s wrong with newspapers. And I find there’s one thing always missing: How can newspapers, especially the mainstream media, succeed when they seem to stand for everything that their readers are against.

You probably know what I’m talking about. For some almost inexplicable and incredible reasons, the likes of the New York Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington Post and most of the other major dailies take an anti-American, anti-military, anti-law-enforcement, anti-conservative, anti-family-values, anti-strong-defense and many more “anti-s” that are about 180 degrees from where many if not most of their readers stand.

But that is never taken into account in the speculations and theories about why papers like the Chicago Tribune and Los Angles Times are already in bankruptcy (both owned by the Tribune Company), why the Minneapolis Star Tribune is also in bankruptcy, why some papers have already closed down altogether or are threatening to do so, why some are in dangerous financial waters and may be headed for bankruptcy such as the New York Times and Philadelphia Inquirer, and why some are giving up hard copy editions and moving to online only, such as the Christian Science Monitor.

I make a point of asking people I meet what they read and why. I also ask newsstand vendors what they sell and why and what they know about their readers preferences. What I’ve learned is that even people who read the Inquirer often hate it. They may buy it for their coupons. They may buy it for their obituaries. But I’ve never heard one say they buy it for their news or editorials or that they like the paper. Maybe the Inquirer should drop the descriptive “newspaper” and call itself “couponpaper” or “obituarypaper” That might come closer to describing its few strengths. I might suggest a new motto for the Inquirer: “In Philadelphia, nearly everyone hates the Inquirer.”


This suggests that the size of a paper’s circulation or readership should be supplemented by another figure. How much the buyers and the readers of the paper like or dislike the product. If I was running the show, I’d do a reader survey and then increase or decrease circulation numbers by some sort of like/dislike scale, some sort of approval/disapproval metric. In the case of the Inquirer, I’d discount the circulation number by a guesstimate of 20 percent because of the negative response it provokes. I’m happy to report that in the case of the Bulletin, I’d increase the numbers by 30 percent or more because people like the paper. Check yourself. Almost every reader I’ve talked to says they love the Bulletin and are quite enthusiastic about it. I’ve never had that response, i.e., “I love the Inquirer,” even once from an Inquirer reader. I’ll give you one other piece of anecdotal evidence. I have a bumper sticker on my back car bumper that reads, “Boycott the biased Inquirer.” I’ve found people notice the sign and invariably greet it with great enthusiasm.

It’s bad enough that these mainstream media seem to be at war with their readers and buyers. What might be worse is that they don’t seem to care. I’ve spent a lot of time complaining to mainstream media newspapers and my own conclusion is that they are not interested in listening and understanding. They immediately shift into the denial and rebuttal mode. Newspapers that are out of touch with their readers are doomed to extinction, which might be another in the long list of forces driving mainstream newspapers into extinction.

There’s another factor that should be totted up separately to understand what is going on. The people that don’t like papers like the New York Times and Philadelphia Inquirer do not just have mild objections to them. They often are repelled by their reporting and editorializing in the strongest possible terms. For example, I — like many others — view the mainstream media as anti-American, pro-terrorist, pro-appeasement-retreat-defeat-and-surrender, anti-military, anti-defense, etc. So I don’t just dislike these papers — I despise them with all the force of my being.

You don’t want to cultivate a major segment of the population that despises your product. And these readers are the types that widely communicate their likes and dislikes.

One of the cures to many of these deficiencies would be more diversity in the newsroom. Bernard Goldberg, in his new book on the media’s love affair with President Barack Obama, makes this suggestion. Now newsrooms are overwhelmingly liberal. You would have a better exchange of ideas and less deadly groupthink if there were more of a balance between liberals and conservatives. I’d offer another reason to do so. Readers love conflict, and with more diversity, at least on the editorial and opinion pages, you could generate conflict on the issues of the day, and at the same time give readers both sides of the issues.

There are other neglected factors. The mainstream media tend to be dull, predictable and pedestrian. It puts me to sleep. I can usually guess what it will report and editorialize on before I even look at the paper. When I see a story on the Internet, I almost always know if it is one that the mainstream media will censor out for one biased reason or another. And it rarely displays good writing and thinking, except on its sports pages.


Finally, and perhaps most devastating to their future, they are no longer viewed as principled and honest journalistic enterprises that can be trusted. Bernard Goldberg, in his excellent new book, A Slobbering Love Affair Starring Barack Obama: The True (and Pathetic) Story of the Torrid Romance Between Barack Obama and the Mainstream Media, points out that the mainstream media was so blatantly biased in its support of the Obama candidacy that the public figured out it could no longer be trusted. And he suggests the mainstream media has lost all credibility going forward. It has been slowly committing journalistic suicide and doesn’t even know it.

What set me off on this tack was an otherwise excellent article on the feared demise of the Philadelphia Inquirer, which appeared in Philadelphia Magazine (February 2009). It is titled “1978 Called: It Wants Its Newspaper Back,” and is by Steve Volk, a staff writer. He has an extensive analysis of what’s wrong with the Inquirer and what might set it right. But he misses all of the fundamentals I’ve stated above.

He misses something else, which suggests even after conducting 100 interviews, he is not in touch with the Philadelphia scene. He notes that Brian Tierney is the co-owner, publisher and CEO of this “city’s newspapers.” I’ve got news for Mr. Volk and Philadelphia Magazine. The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News are not this “city’s newspapers” as if they were the only ones. For over four years, there happens to be another daily, The Bulletin, and there happens to be many strong weeklies. And there’s the Metro, another daily, certainly worthy of note. Mr. Volk notes that the Inquirer is surrounded by a strong ring of suburban papers, and hence have no room to expand. But he should note that it faces competition from two other dailies, which are also taking a significant number of readers away from the Inquirer. As the Inquirer contracts, the Bulletin expands. As they say, that’s just one more nail in the Inquirer coffin.

Apparently the exhaustive research of the Philadelphia Magazine failed to uncover the existence of the Bulletin. The best daily in America, the Wall Street Journal, is aware of the Bulletin, obviously reads it, and recently quoted it in one of its editorials. On Feb. 2, 2009, the Journal ran an editorial titled “Bad News in Philadelphia.” It was about the proposed bailout of the Philadelphia Inquirer by the state of Pennsylvania, which the Journal called “the worst bailout idea so far: newspapers.” (I happened to have written essentially the same thing in my column that appeared on the same day as this Journal editorial.)

The Journal wrote:  “Philadelphia Media Holdings [owner of Inquirer] is in default on its loans, having missed debt payments going back to June. With no buyers knocking on the door, the Philadelphia Bulletin has reported, owner Brian Tierney went hat-in-hand to the Governor’s office to talk about giving the paper some public help.”

Later, the editorial, in discussing all the new competition eating away at the Inquirer, noted, “Smaller papers like the Bulletin are also working hard to reach a larger audience.”

If the best paper in the land can find and quote the Bulletin, something is radically wrong when Philadelphia Magazine, in an article on the very subject of the Philadelphia newspaper scene, seems to be clueless on what’s going on in its own market. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, Philadelphia may not be the great news town it is often claimed to be. Stories that should be covered are often neglected. In my admittedly biased view, the local television stations and Philadelphia Magazine demonstrate tin and tone-deaf ears by not covering the emergence of the Bulletin, not a common occurrence in the world of the one-newspaper city environment. The television stations often base their newscasts on the front page of the Inquirer. To give themselves more variety and perhaps a better newscast, perhaps they should read the front page of the Bulletin, too. I trust that’s not too much reading for TV news directors for one day.

There are other factors that can explain the near demise of the Inquirer. There is an array of new competitors that are chipping away at newspaper audiences. There is cable news, especially Fox News, where many go to escape the outlandish bias of ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS. There is the Internet where anyone can read almost every newspaper in the world free of charge.

In addition, there is a fundamental shift in the habits of the oncoming computer literate generation. They are accustomed to the digital world, and are at ease in getting everything online. They don’t even think about subscribing to hard copies. I know a professor of computer science and technology, one of the best in the field, who told me he doesn’t subscribe to a single hard copy publication. He lives entirely in the online world when it comes to publications.

When it comes to the Internet, if you can’t beat them, join them. Newspapers have web sites, but they are not necessarily among the best or the most important. Of the top 20 news/information Web sites, most are not newspaper sites. Only one of the top seven is.

Only one newspaper has been able to sell Internet access and that’s the Wall Street Journal. Perhaps the message there is that if you have high quality journalism, you can sell it on the Internet. The New York Times, now desperate for revenue, is thinking of selling access to its Internet site. I don’t think a lot of people will want to pay for the biased, dishonest and fraudulent reporting of the Times, which inspired a major boycott by the Media Research Council. Go to www.boycottnyt.com for more information and to sign a boycott petition.

The great management guru, Peter Drucker, has said new business models are rarely pioneered by old companies. One of the most successful of the new Internet news and information companies is the Drudge Report, which was brought forth by a single freelancer, not one of the giant media companies with 10,000 times more resources, consultants, and committee meetings. Based on my limited experience with media consultants, you could probably get better information at a lower cost by man-on-the-street interviews.

Another factor hurting the newspaper industry is the monopoly configuration, which predominates in most cities. The curse of monopoly, in one-newspaper towns, is that it eliminates the competitive forces, which force constant improvement, and brings forth the lethargy and self-satisfaction of the monopolists. When the Inquirer and the old Bulletin were in their heyday, the competition between them produced a better product.

Another factor has been the consolidation of newspapers into giant and sometimes distant parent companies. The model of the newspaper was once the locally-owned company close to the community it serves. Now you have corporate giants controlling papers all across the U.S. That can lead to newspapers losing contact with the community they serve. They are like the supermarkets in some community in Philadelphia with the shots on what they sell and stock is determined by some executive half way across the continent. What does he know about the neighborhood and the customers of the supermarket?

Another factor is the pressure created by financial demands of Wall Street and investors, and the need to make certain financial targets. That sometimes leads to journalistic neglect and financial over-emphasis. Of course, local ownership and insulation from Wall Street don’t assure success. There is the example of the once fabulously successful Bulletin in its first run. It was locally owned. It was privately owned so it was not subject to Wall Street pressure. Yet, the first Bulletin gradually died. The conventional wisdom was that it was a victim of the demise of evening newspapers, which fell in epidemic proportions. In 1948, there were 1,498 evening newspapers; by 2006, that number had dropped to 614. But you can also attribute it to failed leadership, not shifting to a morning paper when it still had the strength and financial wherewithal to do so. Since 1940, the number of morning papers has jumped from 380 to 833.

I happened to be writing a column starting in 1974 for the original Bulletin during its downward spiral (I hope my column doesn’t explain that trend.) I remember going in once a week and talking with one of the top editors, Dale Davis, about what was being done to stop the downward spiral. All kinds of innovations were tried, but none worked.

Perhaps one of the fundamental causes operating today is a failure of leadership. An observer would quickly get the impression of a slowly sinking ship, without a captain that can properly respond to fix the problem. I have failed to see a great burst of innovative energy coming forth from newspaper leadership that you would expect in such trying times. I guess it gets back to George Bernard Shaw’s immortal line, “There just aren’t enough competent people to go around.”

You also have to consider the role of some unions in the downward spiral of newspapers. They are not always constructive partners with management and can cripple operations with unreasonable work rules, unreasonable salary demands, and other pressures. Observe the Big Three auto companies. Shortsighted unions and shortsighted management when combined in one industry produced short-lived companies.

Mr. Volk, in the Philadelphia Magazine article (available online or in the issue now on the newsstands), discusses various fixes. One is the philanthropy model, which would recognize the vital role of the daily newspaper, and gain support for it through donations. Perhaps that suggests the desperation of the Inquirer and many other newspapers. But as they say, desperate times require desperate measures.

Herb Denenberg is a former Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner, Pennsylvania Public Utility Commissioner, and professor at the Wharton School. He is a longtime Philadelphia journalist and  consumer advocate. He is also a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of the Sciences. His column appears daily in The Bulletin. You can reach him at advocate@thebulletin.us.


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Editorial; US: Pennsylvania
KEYWORDS: denenberg; enemedia; msm
The Bulletin is a small but growing Conservative newspaper in Philadelphia and has other good articles, try checking it out at link.
1 posted on 02/06/2009 11:29:33 AM PST by jazusamo
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To: jazusamo

Here is another example of what’s wrong with newspapers.

This story qualifies for front page news at our local rag:

“’Beautifying’ Barbie Dolls Is Her Art Sallee makes one-of-a-kind creations”

Pix and 3 columns of this are clogging the front page of the Vallejo Times Herald in their bid to portray Vallejo as an innocuous, artsy fartsy little bedroom community with no crime.


2 posted on 02/06/2009 11:36:14 AM PST by Califreak (What's black and white and red all over? My hero, Zero.)
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To: jazusamo
"You probably know what I’m talking about. For some almost inexplicable and incredible reasons, the likes of the New York Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington Post and most of the other major dailies take an anti-American, anti-military, anti-law-enforcement, anti-conservative, anti-family-values, anti-strong-defense and many more “anti-s” that are about 180 degrees from where many if not most of their readers stand."

Answer: they are staffed by effete leftist with a homosexual bent.

3 posted on 02/06/2009 11:36:31 AM PST by RightWingConspirator (Impeach Zerobama and send him home to Kenya!)
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To: jazusamo
What's Wrong With Newspapers And The Pundits Who Write About Them

There are of course, like in any other endeavor or business, many reasons for failure.

For the newspaper industry, and much of the media in general, ideology trumps sound business practice.
4 posted on 02/06/2009 11:38:15 AM PST by adorno
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To: jazusamo

They deliver in the Suburbs... awesome! Insights into what is really happening of worth! Not the Latest drag Costumes of the Homosexual community or 4 pages of strip clubs like the daily news! both sports sections twice a week delve into mocking conservatives it really is pathetic!


5 posted on 02/06/2009 11:40:29 AM PST by philly-d-kidder (May God Bless America and ALL Freepers!)
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To: adorno

“What’s Wrong With Newspapers And The Pundits Who Write About Them”

Although I live in Ct, I love the NY Post which I subscribe to and love the Waterbury Republican whose editorials regularly get posted on FR. I find the NY Post enormously entertaining and informative.

In Ct, the Hartford Currant and Ct Post are useless liberal rags.


6 posted on 02/06/2009 11:42:28 AM PST by y6162
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To: Califreak

And a good example that is why newspapers are going bankrupt.


7 posted on 02/06/2009 11:42:35 AM PST by jazusamo (But there really is no free lunch, except in the world of political rhetoric,.: Thomas Sowell)
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To: jazusamo
The problem is and has always been communism... and McCarthy was right and a TRUE AMERICAN HERO!

LLS

8 posted on 02/06/2009 11:45:21 AM PST by LibLieSlayer (hussein will NEVER be my president... NEVER!)
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To: adorno
ideology trumps sound business practice.

Agree...It's the major reason for their financial difficulties, IMO.

9 posted on 02/06/2009 11:46:13 AM PST by jazusamo (But there really is no free lunch, except in the world of political rhetoric,.: Thomas Sowell)
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To: LibLieSlayer
and McCarthy was right and a TRUE AMERICAN HERO!

BUMP to that!

10 posted on 02/06/2009 11:48:19 AM PST by jazusamo (But there really is no free lunch, except in the world of political rhetoric,.: Thomas Sowell)
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To: abb

FYI


11 posted on 02/06/2009 12:00:34 PM PST by ken5050 (Don't blame me, I voted for Palin!!)
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To: jazusamo
Mr. Volk, in the Philadelphia Magazine article (available online or in the issue now on the newsstands), discusses various fixes. One is the philanthropy model, which would recognize the vital role of the daily newspaper, and gain support for it through donations. Perhaps that suggests the desperation of the Inquirer and many other newspapers. But as they say, desperate times require desperate measures.

If that's a fix, I've got a business model to sell to you. It's called "free housing" where the money is made through volume sales.

The philanthropy model will work insofar as keeping the newspaper alive. But, you can't sell the crap contents within it, not even for free. The only way that the philanthropy model can get circulation up is by free distribution to people's homes, whether people want them or not. But, will people bother to even open up the pages? Other than the coupons which might arrive with that paper, I wouldn't even bother to open the paper myself. Fish-wrap or birdcage lining would be the better uses for wasted paper.

The thought comes to mind...

If the environmental crowd really cares about saving trees and keeping the air fresh, then the death of the daily newspapers and the weekly magazines are huge steps in that direction.

Furthermore, the biggest upside to the death of the liberal media would be a "better" informed citizenry (voter) since, without the disinformation and biased reporting from the media that we have now, the people wouldn't have their minds full of the junk being fed to them right now. No news is better than biased news. No information is better than "junk" information, such as the global warming junk science being perpetrated on the people.
12 posted on 02/06/2009 12:07:43 PM PST by adorno
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To: jazusamo
I wish the dinosaur media would just shut up and die already.

The biggest fear that media has about themselves is that there will be no one to expose the fact that Intelligence was listening to Osama's Satellite phone, that Intelligence was monitoring terrorists email, that Intelligence was holding terrorists in places around the world, etc.

13 posted on 02/06/2009 12:12:33 PM PST by Jeff Gordon ("An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile hoping it will eat him last." Churchill)
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To: Califreak
This story qualifies for front page news at our local rag:

“’Beautifying’ Barbie Dolls Is Her Art Sallee makes one-of-a-kind creations”

Now you've done it. Someone is sure to look it up and post it at F.R.

14 posted on 02/06/2009 12:12:41 PM PST by Graybeard58
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To: Jeff Gordon

All good points which would have been unthinkable acts during WWII but have become commonplace, many are the enemy within.


15 posted on 02/06/2009 12:18:58 PM PST by jazusamo (But there really is no free lunch, except in the world of political rhetoric,.: Thomas Sowell)
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To: jazusamo
Today's newspapers??? They do nothing more than cut and pate of the AP wire. No investigative reporting..no new ideas. They are totally void of any independent thinking.
They are a disgrace. Good riddance to them.
16 posted on 02/06/2009 12:20:58 PM PST by IC Ken
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To: jazusamo

Too many people in journalism who “want to make a difference” instead of writing/reporting or simply because of the excitement that comes with the profession.


17 posted on 02/06/2009 12:22:12 PM PST by GSWarrior (To activate this tagline please contact the admin moderator.)
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To: jazusamo
The papers lost “The customer is always right.” slogan a long time ago.
18 posted on 02/06/2009 12:38:04 PM PST by oyez (Justa' another high minded lowlife.)
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To: jazusamo
Question: "What's Wrong With Newspapers And The Pundits Who Write About Them?"

Response: I call it media morals. Media morals consists of: sedition, treason, homosexual sodomy, anti-christian speech especially mockery directed to the religious Christian;legal prostitution, marijuana use, getting money as opposed to earning it, hatred for Anglo Americans; unlimited illegal immigration, a general prediliction for vice addiction and the favoring of the loss loss of self governance among the youth; abortion and the murder of babies rather than self control, non-reasoning approach to living.

19 posted on 02/06/2009 12:43:20 PM PST by AEMILIUS PAULUS (It is a shame that when these people give a riot)
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To: abb; Milhous

Ping.


20 posted on 02/06/2009 12:49:31 PM PST by ConservativeMind (Who is now in charge of the "Office of the President-Elect"?)
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To: GSWarrior

Well said...Too many reporters and editors editorializing the news.


21 posted on 02/06/2009 12:56:40 PM PST by jazusamo (But there really is no free lunch, except in the world of political rhetoric,.: Thomas Sowell)
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To: jazusamo

BWAHAHAHAhahaha! Fail, you MSM suckers, FAIL!

My local paper’s Publisher and Editor each have their own “Bam-Bam” knee pads. They put ‘em on early and wore them often during the last campaign. When called on it, said “We have ‘balance’ in this paper.” Uh, huh. Right. “Balance” is a 50-to-one ratio of bile-spewing hatred for Bush/Palin/rethugs/Limbaugh versus one error-filled story on a veteran running against an entrenched Demoncrap.

Yeah, some of us actually are overtly hostile to local media — I had a reporter (oh, exCUSE me! “journalist”) almost in tears last fall but he walked away before I got to the GOOD stuff. Balance THIS “journalist”!

Peet (who desPISEs drive-by media)


22 posted on 02/06/2009 1:05:02 PM PST by Peet (<- A.K.A. the Foundling)
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To: jazusamo

All of that is true but newspapers have an obsolete business model that can’t be sustained. Let’s see, I’m going start a business that cuts down trees and uses tons and tons of paper. I’m going to hire lots of writers and editors, fly them all over the world and then produce type-set molds of their stories. Then I physically cover these molds with ink and print hundreds of thousands of copies. These copies are then driven by trucks or cars all over the entire city where they are delivered to each individual house. And finally, my competition is free, instantaneous, and the reader can choose from many different sources. I’ll let you know it works out for me.


23 posted on 02/06/2009 2:02:03 PM PST by BubbaBasher (This space available for a bailout.)
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To: BubbaBasher
produce type-set molds of their stories

Type set molds?


24 posted on 02/06/2009 2:11:57 PM PST by ColdWater
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To: BubbaBasher

Yes, the newspaper business has lived by retail advertising and is now dying because of the ever increasing lack of it. With the Internet private businesses and companies can and are doing more of their own, it’s effective and saves them money and even the smallest of newspapers have websites now.


25 posted on 02/06/2009 2:23:50 PM PST by jazusamo (But there really is no free lunch, except in the world of political rhetoric,.: Thomas Sowell)
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To: jazusamo

I make a point of asking people I meet what they read and why.
_____________________
I don’t know anyone who actually reads the paper here in my town. Most of us use newspaper for packing, cat box liner, bird cage liner etc. It’s relatively inexpensive to use newspaper


26 posted on 02/06/2009 4:02:49 PM PST by Joan Kerrey
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To: jazusamo

I consider myself an avid reader, both of books and news. I subscribe to no newspaper or magazine, all the news I read I get from the internet. I also do not buy any book but can read just about any book I want via my Kindle. Now I am 56 years old so just imagine what the younger generation, raised on digital media, are reading? They have no use for print media.


27 posted on 02/06/2009 6:17:56 PM PST by ops33 (Senior Master Sergeant, USAF (Retired))
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To: ops33

You make a good point. It’s unlikely that newspapers will go away completely, but their piece of the pie is getting smaller.


28 posted on 02/06/2009 8:17:46 PM PST by CowboyJay (Stop picking on Porkulus. He's not fat, he's just big-boned.)
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