Serious, daily, national reporting is overwhelmingly the preserve of a tiny handful of big-city newspapers with large staffs and worldwide bureaus. Of these, the Los Angeles Times is under pressure to downsize by its parent company, as is the Washington Post. Knight Ridder was recently purchased by McClatchy. And every big-metro daily in the country, including the still-independent New York Times, is under relentless pressure from deteriorating circulation, poor demographics, loss of classified ad revenue to the Internet, and the decline of urban department stores storms that private owners might have weathered but institutional investors have no stomach for.Unsurprisingly, since I wrote those words, I agree completely. If I had to guess, I'd say that upwards of two-thirds of serious, daily reporting on national and international topics in the U.S. press comes from five sources: the LA Times, New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and McClatchy. If the Denver Post dies, that's bad for Denver, but what happens when the Big Five die? There's really nothing to replace them.
When these dailies succumb, there's really nothing to replace them. Television news does very little in-depth daily reporting, most radio is hopeless, and blogs simply don't have the resources. Magazines do some good work but come out only weekly or monthly. So while the raw numbers of media consolidation may be the most dramatic symptom of the problem, it's the small number of national dailies at the core of today's MSM that ought to be the biggest cause for concern.
Now, sure, there are other sources of information. I can read the Guardian and the Financial Times anytime I want. There's plenty of good reporting in weekly and monthly magazines. Wire services and TV can provide basic coverage of press conferences and congressional hearings. It's not as if we'll be bereft of news.
But when it comes to daily reporting from Iraq; when it comes to uncovering things like the NSA's warrantless wiretapping program or the identity of Curveball; when it comes to serious investigations of federal corruption or corporate malfeasance well, most of that is done by the Big Five. Not all of it. But most of it. And I'm not quite sure who's up to the task of doing the kind of very costly reporting that this stuff requires if these big dailies either go away or shrivel into mere local outlets.
Maybe I'm worrying over nothing. After all, if there's a demand for this kind of reporting, someone will provide it. And there is a demand for it. Right?