A few remarks —
I’m not a newspaperman, and have never aspired to be one. Bloggers are modern-day pamphleteers, reviving a tradition that was robust during our founding era. Rather, I’m from a family of newspaper readers. From as far back as I can remember, there were always newspapers (and books, magazines) all over the house. Many Americans of my generation grew up respecting serious journalism – reading, pondering, and critiquing what we read.
The pandemic has hit smaller papers hard, notably alt-weeklies (the Isthmus in Madison has gone dark, and the Shepherd Express has stopped printing and is now online only. (Alternative papers rely significantly on restaurant and entertainment advertising, and those industries are disproportionately affected by the need for social distancing.) For more on the plight of alternative papers see “Total annihilation”: Coronavirus may just be the end for many alt-weeklies. What’s happening to these alternative weeklies – commendable, feisty publications – is heartbreaking.
There’s a different problem with the dailies in this part of the world. Newspapers in the area from which I write – southeastern Wisconsin – have never been especially strong. They grew worse over time – after the Great Recession, they offered weak-tea reporting. The bias to act as press agents for government was, with fewer exceptions each year, strong. Indeed, the importance of journalistic independence from government didn’t merely vanish, but came to be seen as an offense in the eyes of local notables.
The editors of two local dailies – the Daily Union and the Gazette – accelerated their own papers’ demise with happy-talk boosterism. They ran their papers into the ground. They inured others to a lesser standard. See from 3.23.20 A Newspaper’s Boosterism During a Pandemic.
In a city like Whitewater, this problem of boosterism became so acute that a city councilman (who had been on the school board for years prior, and is on the school board again) published his own ersatz online newspaper. Even while he served in office, he published countless pro-government stories, and covered his own candidacy to return to the school board.
Such men might say – as one has heard others in Whitewater say – that they are committing no conflicts of interest because they wear different hats when acting in their respective roles. It’s a laughable claim – those different hats sit on the same heads.
The failure of local newspapers to hold these officials to account has encouraged this ilk.
Now comes APG, picking at the sagging flesh of this area’s daily papers. APG likely would have done so in time – the pandemic has simply accelerated these plans. Blaming APG is like blaming a vulture for needing a meal. It’s the men and women who weakened the animal, and left it vulnerable to predation, who are truly responsible for this sad fate.