And the Winner Is ... Anyone but the Media

     The election isn’t even over, but Americans have made their opinions known. The biggest loser of the 2008 campaign is the mainstream media. In poll after poll, voters express anger and dissatisfaction at journalists’ blatantly prObama position. While the media might get their wish and help elect Barack Obama president, readership, viewership and ad dollars are crashing at the same time.

     Journalists will cling to hopes that this isn’t cause and effect. They are correct in saying technology in partially to blame. But that discounts their immense failure of the public trust.

     Washington Post ombudsman Deborah Howell called a similar assessment “simplistic” in a Nov. 2 column, but admitted such complaints hold “a grain of truth.” “Every day I hear from readers who tell me the reasons The Post is losing readers and advertising are 1) The Post is too liberal, 2) The Post has gone downhill with three buyouts in five years or 3) The post is arrogant. Or all of the above.”

     Howell admits “The Post, as well as much of the national news media, has written more stories and more favorable stories about Barack Obama than John McCain.” Then she tries to rationalize the paper’s circulation and advertising losses.

     Imagine an ordinary company – like McDonald’s or Sprint – ignoring the wishes of their customers and producing products no one wants. When the American automotive industry runs off the road, the media want to hang management. But when their own industry is falling victim to self-inflicted wounds, they have no clue what to do.

     Insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different result. That explains the mindset when journalists are shocked that they keep producing biased news and their industry collapses financially.

     Here Howell is being told by the paper’s customers that it is a biased piece of propaganda. And yet she refuses to listen. That is a disease that infects the entire news industry. So it is no surprise that journalism is getting killed in the marketplace. 

     Newspaper circulation is one key measure of public reaction. The top 25 newspapers distributed nearly 18 million papers in 1998. Ten years later, they have lost nearly 4 million paid readers – a 22 percent decline. Just last week, the Washington Post Co. reported “an 86 percent decline in third-quarter earnings” and newspaper layoffs are now as common as pictures of Obama with a halo.

     Gannett, the publisher of 85 dailies, including USA Today, and 900 other publications, is reportedly laying off 10 percent of its newspaper employees. That’s up to 3,000 workers. The Christian Science Monitor is killing its weekday print edition as of April. And Time Inc. CEO Ann Moore said that company is facing <?xml:namespace prefix = v ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:vml" />an advertising “depression.”

     A recent Editor & Publisher tried to sort out the mess. The story questioned whether newspapers are “are driving away their largest base of loyal readers.” It cited an August report from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press showing “the percentage of those who say they had read a newspaper on a given day has dropped from 50% in 1998 to 34% in 2008.”

     A quick glance at the 2008 election coverage underscores the obvious disconnect between liberal journalists and their readers. Since journalists love polls, let’s look some other results. “Voters overwhelmingly believe that the media wants Barack Obama to win the presidential election,” according to Pew. The survey found that by nearly 8-to-1, respondents thought the media had chosen Obama.

     That was the common result. A Rasmussen Reports survey said by a 10-to-1 margin the public believe the media are trying to hurt Sarah Palin. Another Rasmussen poll said voters believe the media “are trying to help Barack Obama,” that by a 5-to-1 margin. A Fox News poll discovered six times as many voters think "most members of the media" want Obama to win.

     The news media are uniformly behind the Obama candidacy. The latest newspaper endorsement tally by Editor & Publisher shows “Obama in a landslide,” netting 240 endorsements to McCain’s 114. All 57 alternative weeklies that endorsed also are backing Obama. E&P even tallies a tidal wave of support for Obama in college papers – 79 to just one for McCain. And that leaves out the almost constant stream of biased news coverage that preceded those endorsements.

     Everything has a cost. Public perception of media is plummeting with their stock prices. Pew also reported that “virtually every news organization or program has seen its credibility marks decline,” but said Democrats are happier with news organizations than Republicans. Probably because Democrats staff them as well.

     Even if the media get their wish and an Obama victory, the price is going to be lost credibility and lost jobs. It’s the free market response to the news media delivering a product many Americans don’t want to buy.