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Newspapers Suffer Death By A Thousand Paper Cuts

These days, no news is good in the news business. Forget growth sectors; there are barely any heads-above-water sectors in the news media. The rest are going down faster than your 401(k).

To illustrate the media meltdown, let's consider just one recent edition of the daily news-industry digest, Mediabistro. Mediabistro's news feed started with this story: "25% of Analog TV Signals Cut Off." It reported that a quarter of TV stations had just gone all-digital, leaving behind Antenna Nation.

And that was the good news, since it meant 75 percent of TV stations postponed shutting off the rabbit-ears set. The bad news was the story that a guy in Missouri shot his TV when he couldn't get the new digital channels in his town.

They don't call Missouri the Show Me State for nothing.

Back to that Mediabistro news feed. Its next story was headlined "Local Web-Ad Market Cools Down," moving the formerly hot Internet growth sector into the head-barely-above-water category.

That was followed by "Tribune Freezes Non-Union Salaries," which involved 10 daily newspapers, and the news report "Expectations Low for CBS' Earnings," which means that CBS now stands for Crazy to Buy Stock.

After the next buzzkill bulletin — "More Layoffs Hit Belo," the publishing company that owns the Dallas Morning News and Providence Journal — Mediabistro featured this downbeat piece: "Slimmer Newsweek Has Mag Staff Steaming."

Seems Newsweek magazine has decided to downsize dramatically, considering that it lost 38 percent of its advertising and $20 million over the past year. So you can see why the Newsweek staff might get a little hot.

All that bad news in one day. Then again, that's every day in the print media. Four newspaper companies have filed for bankruptcy in the past several months, and at least three others, according to the Wall Street Journal, are on the verge.

While many in the digerati applaud the disappearance of what they dismissively call "the gatekeepers," others lament the loss of newspapers' perspective on current events, not to mention their unique ability to root out corruption in the government, religious institutions and the corporate world.

As one media watcher recently noted: "The Internet pelts us with news; a good newspaper arranges it in our heads."

And good newspapers produce most of the news the Internet pelts us with. But the newspaper industry has been unable to convince the public of its value in a democratic society. It's gotten so bad, only 20 percent of Americans, according to one survey, even believe what's in the daily paper.

So we find ourselves in the very sad position of witnessing the slow-motion demise of newspapers.

It's death by a thousand paper cuts.

This program aired on February 27, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.

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