Posts Tagged ‘Media’

Top 11 Posts of 2010: My Best Work

Posted: Friday, December 31, 2010 at 12:15 pm
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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Wednesday I compiled a list of the top ten stories of 2010 based on number of reader comments. Now let’s slice and dice 2010 purely by personal preference. Out of over 1350 blog posts published this year, here are eleven stories, not necessarily in order of importance, that I think represent my best blog work in 2010. These stories may not have affected the most people or drawn the most fire, but they’re stories that make me feel proud to say I’m a blogger.

1. Local Candidate Forums: If blogging paid the bills, I’d cover local politics like this every day. Even without a big paycheck I managed to give solid coverage to the October 20 and October 27 candidate forums (fora?) held here in Madison. My notes and video from both events provided the most complete online record of our local candidates’ positions. As for commentary, well, where else will you find this kind of in-depth opinion and analysis on candidates for state legislature, county commission, sheriff, and county auditor?

Bonus: Quality local political coverage like this got my friend Matt Groce to invite me onto KJAM for some live Election Night punditry. What a blast! Thanks, Matt… and thank you, neighbors, for listening!

2. Veblen Dairies Collapse: In one of the biggest stories ignored by South Dakota’s mainstream media, serial feedlot polluter Richard Millner lost his mega-dairy fiefdom collapse. His dairies in Veblen, South Dakota, as well as operations in North Dakota and Minnesota, all went into bankruptcy. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency rebuffed Millner twice and shut down his stinky Excel Dairy in Thief River Falls, Minnesota. The South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources declared it will not issue a manure permit to a dairy where Millner holds decision-making power. Millner tried to reorganize his investors to cling to the two giant Veblen dairies, but those efforts fell apart, and the bank will likely take possession of both facilities.

I hit this story hard because Rick Millner has left a swath of illegal environmental and economic destruction in every community where he’s done business. Why the media largely ignored this story, when Millner’s Veblen operations constituted 15% of South Dakota’s dairy industry and when his operations received special government support through the EB-5 Visa program, continues to puzzle me.

The Veblen dairy story also demonstrates that collaboration makes good online journalism. My coverage of Richard Millner’s environmental abuses and financial collapse was supported by numerous sources, folks who wanted to get the Veblen story out so Millner would not be able to take advantage of others the way he’s taken advantage of them. We owe these good people our respect and our thanks.

3. TransCanada Keystone Leaks: Four pump stations in a row, three in South Dakota, one in Nebraska, sprang leaks as TransCanada brought its Keystone I pipeline online. Four leaks in a three-month span; that’s three more leaks than TransCanada said we’d get in 65 years. And even with TransCanada now digging up sections of the Keystone I to check for defective steel, our mainstream media remain mostly quiet about TransCanada’s errors.

4. Clark Schmidtke, Russell Olson, and Court Records: Indy-Dem Clark Schmidtke challenged Russell Olson for the District 8 State Senate seat. For his trouble, Schmidtke got his criminal record brought to light in the South Dakota blogosphere. I reported both Schmidtke’s fraud conviction and jail time in Minnesota and Olson’s own lengthy court record. The local paper covered Schmidtke’s record, but not Olson’s.

5. Herseth Sandlin vs. Noem at State Fair Debate: If I had any doubts about voting for Blue Dog Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, witnessing her dismantle Kristi Noem on stage at the South Dakota State Fair Congressional debate completely dismissed them. That debate fueled ten full blog posts that convinced me South Dakota would be worse off with Kristi Noem in Congress. 52% of South Dakota voters agreed with me… but since 6% of them picked B. Thomas Marking, the 48% who backed Noem got their way.

6. “Summer Storm in the City as I Wait to Drive Home: Speaking of Democrats, my first state Democratic convention was blogworthy; so was the thunderstorm afterward. Sometimes it’s nice to trade the political pen for the poetical.

7. Colton Turning Stimulus into Energy Independence: When he runs for re-election in 2012, President Obama should make a campaign stop in Colton, South Dakota, to show the results of his stimulus package at their best. My blog post on Colton’s energy independence initiative combined original reporting and good pix on a sunny fall day to highlight innovative thinking in small-town South Dakota, helped by smart investment by Uncle Sam.

8. How to Promote Arts, Culture, and Community in Small-Town South Dakota: The Madison Dairy Queen staged another successful Miracle Treat Day fundraiser for Children’s Miracle Network. The fun kids games and live music on the street (and the Mason’s rooftop!) didn’t just help sick kids and their families; the event also provided an object lesson in creative community development in rural South Dakota.

9. IgniteSD: Speaking of creative cultural development, my friends John and Scott Meyer started IgniteSD, a fun community event that brings folks together to talk about their passions and big ideas. I had the privilege of delivering the inaugural IgniteSD talk in Brookings in April, an event that inspired this rhapsodic post. Then I helped pack Mochavino for IgniteSD #2 right here in Madison in May.

10. Lake Madison Public Access Area: Lake County opened its new public access area on Lake Madison this spring, giving me an excuse for a new bike route and a fun blog photo essay. If only everything worth blogging were within bicycling distance….

11. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Pacifism, and Blogospheric Multilogue: My post on the great Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his spiritual and physical struggle against the Nazis was just one thread in a conversation that involved numerous South Dakota bloggers and commenters. This conversation about theology, history, and politics represents the South Dakota blogopshere at its best: South Dakotans of very different political and religious persuasions engaging in thoughtful conversation about challenging issues. Let’s hope 2011 brings even more multivocal conversations like this.

*     *     *

1350+ blog posts is a lot to review! I’m sure I left out some of your favorites. So I’m open to nominations from the floor: what 2010 stories did you like best?

Hunter: South Dakotans up to Eyeballs in Newspapers

Posted: Wednesday, December 22, 2010 at 9:06 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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I may complain about the paucity of local media, but Madison Daily Leader publisher Jon Hunter contends South Dakota’s newspaper market has more players than most places. In his Monday editorial, our man Hunter congratulates the Garretson Gazette and the Native Sun News on ascending to the noble ranks of “legal newspapers” (i.e., getting to publish legal notices from local government entitites, the convenient racket that the newspaper association uses to protect its market share from innovators who would save tax dollars by publishing meeting minutes and new ordinances online).

In the process, Hunter notes that “There are now 119 weekly and 11 daily newspapers in South Dakota, the most per capita of any state in the nation.”

Given our new official population of 814,000, that’s one daily for every 74,000 South Dakotans. Turn the number another way, that’s 13.5 daily newspapers per million population. According to data from the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers, that gives us press coverage almost as good as Switzerland (which has 14.0 dailies per million). Of the 25 countries with higher daily-per-million ratings, most are pa-dinkally places like San Marino, Liechtenstein, Aruba, and the Northern Mariana Islands. Our Norsky forebears also outnews us (19.3 dailies per million), but South Dakota beats Sweden (11.0), Denmark (7.2), and the United States as a whole (6.0 dailies per million, or one paper per 167,000 people).

Think of South Dakota as a single community that just happens to be spread out across 77,000 square miles: we have 11 daily newspapers serving a population about the same size as Indianapolis or San Francisco. Yahoo’s directory pops up fifteen papers for San Francisco. Mondo Times lists four Indianapolis papers.

But does quantity mean quality? That depends on how you define quality in newspapers. If we’re talking reach and impact, only two of those 130 publications, the Rapid City Journal and that Sioux Falls paper approach statewide status (though I get the feeling from the Web that the Mitchell Daily Republic is trying). Most of the rest do what they do reasonably well, covering their local events, but rarely reaching beyond their county borders.

If we’re talking breadth of viewpoints, well, we’re eating mostly white bread. Most of the newspapers Jon Hunter counts are of the same genre: community booster rags with lots of pics from the kids’ basketball games and the local Tour of Gardens, spiced with the occasional contrarian letter to the editor. (Monday’s Madison Daily Leader letters: advice from the Car Care Council in Maryland on keeping our cars ready for winter, and tips from a local nursing home manager on good Christmas gifts for old folks.) Most South Dakota newspapers operate in tiny media monopolies with no alternative voices on paper to challenge them. The closest thing to a regular alternative press may be the college weeklies (and note: after 108 years in print, DSU’s student newspaper, The Trojan Times, is going all digital).

Compare that to San Francisco, where the mainstream San Francisco Chronicle dominates, but where dozens of alternative newspapers coexist and serve the same community with different ethnic and political viewpoints.

And as we love to point out, of those 11 South Dakota dailies, only the Madison Daily Leader is independently and locally owned. Local control matters, especially when it comes to news. When the money decisions are made elsewhere, you end up with the biggest papers in the state not maintaining bureaus in Pierre to cover state government.

Having lots of newspapers is great. South Dakota’s newspapers tell stories that no one else is going to cover. But the lack of local ownership, diversity of voices, and breadth of coverage leave room for improvement. Keep printing, Jon!

What Liberal Media?

Posted: Wednesday, October 27, 2010 at 7:10 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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What liberal media? That Sioux Falls paper just endorsed the complete Republican slate for District 9 Senate and House. That includes Deb Peters, who appears to be dodging debates and thinks the right way to keep families from open enrolling out of her school district is to throw up legislative barriers to school choice; Bob Deelstra, who has a speech impediment online; and, in the greatest sign of the apocalypse, Pastor Steve Hickey, who will ban abortion entirely if he gets the chance.

Now I’ll admit, of the various fundagelicals with whom I’ve locked blog horns, Pastor Hickey has come across as more capable of reasoned debate and practical political action than some others of his ilk. But that the largest newspaper in our state would pick him and his Republican colleagues over Trudi Hatch, Mark Anderson, and Rob Wilson—three relatively sober and serious Democrats, not wild radicals like me—reduces to absurdity any suggestion that the South Dakota media has a liberal bias.

Then again, Pastor Hickey does support reparations for Native Americans, including at least a conversation about some eventual land settlement. Maybe he’s a liberal after all….

Madison OKs New Gym, HS Fix… and Solar Panels?

Posted: Tuesday, October 12, 2010 at 6:42 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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The Madison Central School Board green-lighted (green-lit?) the new gym and high school renovations project at its regular meeting last night. The Madison Daily Leader also continued its campaign of spin and obfuscation, referring solely to “renovations” and “new space” and not once mentioning the biggest single item in the $16M package, the new gym.

The school board is clearly alarmed by the bad press here in the blogosphere. In an effort to stanch opposition and bring Madison’s busiest blog on board with the project, architect Jeff Nelson is throwing an obvious bone to the green commentariat:

Jeff Nelson, Baldridge and Nelson president, told the board members that his firm could start working on a “full-blown package.” He said that the package would include a complete floor plan and an energy study that would consider utility cost savings and possible renewable energy use, such as solar and wind generation [Chuck Clement, “Madison School Board Says Yes to Renovations,” Madison Daily Leader, 2010.10.11].

Oh! Solar panels! Wind turbines! Well, I’m totally on board now. Forget I said anything bad about building a luxury gym or trying to hide this unnecessary project behind educational necessities. Slap a solar panel on top, and I’m all for it, right?

Actually, I wold be quite pleased to see our high school follow the City of Colton’s lead and move toward energy self-sufficiency. But watch: someone will discover that the low thrum of the wind turbines would distract our Bulldog free-throw shooters, and then the turbines are out.

My two cents on cameras in the courtroom

Posted: Wednesday, October 6, 2010 at 6:27 pm
By: Tim Gebhart
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With the South Dakota Supreme Court holding a hearing Thursday morning to assess rule changes that would allow cameras in state court courtrooms, I can see both sides. After all, I was a “cops and courts” reporter (although in the print media) before becoming a lawyer and venturing into the courtroom.

I don’t plan on reviewing in any detail the suggestions from the committee that studied the issue. Suffice it to say a majority of the committee recommended access only where all the parties agree while a minority, largely the media representatives, recommended access be presumed unless the judge found good cause otherwise. The two proposals differ in other respects but are alike in others. Neither, though, incorporates some of my pipe dreams.

First, the television stations (or their parent networks or the like) should pay all or most of the cost of installing fixed cameras in the courtrooms in which they request to broadcast a trial. I know that might be expensive but by doing it on a courtroom by courtroom basis when necessary, it is less economically burdensome. Moreover, fixed cameras are less distracting and having the media install them won’t impact an already stretched judiciary budget.

Second, to avoid the public getting only sound bites, the stations participating and the state would arrange that all parts of the trial that can be recorded be fully broadcast on a local public access channel. I don’t care if it’s a live broadcast but, at a minimum, there should be a full showing during evening hours when more people are likely able to watch. That way, if it wishes, the public has access to everything, not what someone else thinks important. (Along those same lines, I’ve long believed all South Dakota Supreme Court arguments should be rebroadcast on public television or public access channels in their entirety.)

The last element is that there be a quid pro quo for each trial the media wants to broadcast. I haven’t quite figured out the logistics, but for each murder case or whatever that strikes the media’s fancy, it will also have to air, in its entirety, another trial on the public access channel it didn’t decide to cover. In other words, for each “sexy” trial that gets air time, a breach of contract, declaratory judgment action or car accident jury or court trial would also be broadcast. I think consent of the parties is necessary here because only they or their attorneys know whether private information will come up. Yet this would at least give the public the opportunity to see a more balanced picture of what the courts actually do.

So there’s my two cents — and it’s worth less than that. But don’t get me started on my dream that “None of the Above” must be on the ballot for every elected office, contested or not.

Let Marking Debate SHS/Noem? Vote Now!

Posted: Wednesday, July 28, 2010 at 6:45 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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The Mitchell Daily Republic‘s exclusion of Independent candidate for U.S. House B. Thomas Marking from the Corn Palace Festival debate on August 28 got me thinking: what’s a guy got to do to earn a spot on the political debate stage? How much popular viability beyond getting enough signatures to make the ballot must a candidate demonstrate to be taken seriously?

While we ponder that, take the latest Madville Times poll: “Should SD media include Independent candidate for U.S. House B. Thomas Marking in live public debates with candidates Stephanie Herseth Sandlin and Kristi Noem?Vote here, then drop a comment. Tell us all what you think earns a candidate the right to be heard in a public debate. Voting and comment is open to everyone, regardless of your potential for winning a public vote. ;-)

Poll is open until breakfast time Saturday, around which time I’ll post the results and offer some more commentary. Tell your friends, and vote now!

KELO on Pipelines: Why Worry?

Posted: Monday, June 21, 2010 at 8:04 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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KELO kisses Big Oil’s backside with more happy coverage of TransCanada’s Keystone pipeline. Specifically, they trot out Public Utilities Commissioner Gary Hanson to tell us we don’t have to worry about a BP-Gulf-scale oil leak from TransCanada’s pipelines. Cherlene Richards’ corporate propaganda includes assurances that TransCanada has a good track record, has tested the pipe, and has all sorts of redundant shut-offs and safety measures. Commissioner Hanson assures us the state has plenty of emergency plans in case something bad does happen.

Completely missing from this objective, professional journalism: information or comment from anyone opposing the pipeline. Hanson is the only individual cited. For those who want to learn more, Richards provides a link to the TransCanada website.

Richards could easily have included opposing views like this:

The company has stressed repeatedly that it’s committed to the highest safety standards — that comparisons to the environmental catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico are “completely unfair.”

Yet critics see little distinction. “BP didn’t think their well would ever leak,” Cindy Kreifels, executive vice president of the Nebraska-based Groundwater Foundation told The Tyee. “They supposedly had disaster plans in place and it has not made a difference” [Geoff Dembicki, “Gulf Disaster Raises Alarms about Alberta to Texas Pipeline,” The Tyee, 2010.06.21].

…or this reminder that pipelines inevitably leak… sometimes twice:

As the leak in the Gulf continues, on Tuesday the Trans-Alaska “Alyeska” Pipeline owned by BP and other oil companies, started spewing several thousand barrels of crude oil and was shut down. It’s not clear when the pipeline will reopen. The accident occured about 100 miles south of Fairbanks.

Four years ago 267,000 gallons leaked out of the same pipeline as investigators on the North Slope eventually found what was described as “severe corrosion” requiring the replacement of some 20 miles of pipeline [Joe Jordan, “Nebraska Eyes on Leaky Alaska Pipeline,” Nebraska Watchdog, 2010.05.27].

…or this concern about the threat to the Ogallala Aquifer:

The Ogallala Aquifer is one of the world’s largest aquifers and covers areas in South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas. Some portions of the aquifer are so close to the surface that any pipeline leak would almost immediately contaminate a large portion of the water [“Staying Hooked on a Dirty Fuel: Why Canadian Tar Sands Pipelines Are a Bad Bet for the United States,” National Wildlife Federation, 2010].

And don’t forget the 33,000 gallons of oil that spewed into a Salt Lake City creek after an electric arc made a hole the size of a quarter in a Chevron pipeline.

KELO has been in TransCanada’s camp for some time. They gave some coverage to landowner opposition, but then turned to happily running TransCanada’s propaganda and ignoring the impact of the Keystone pipeline project on landowners forced to accept it. And I still haven’t caught a story on TransCanada’s road damage on KELO.

Thank goodness for blogs like Great Plains Tar Sands Pipelines and Dakota Today that bring some balance to the corporate news.

FTC to help “the reinvention of journalism”?

Posted: Tuesday, June 15, 2010 at 11:38 am
By: Tim Gebhart
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No one disputes the impact the digital age has had on journalism, particularly newspapers, so there’s a variety of ideas floating around to keep newspapers alive. The Federal Trade Commission’s staff just released a draft discussion report as a result of the FTC saying last year that it wanted to consider the challenges faced by journalism.

The FTC points out that the report, titled “Potential Policy Recommendations to Support the Reinvention of Journalism in the Internet Age,” is not made up of its proposals but, rather, is a collection of suggestions from a series of workshops it hosted and from reports and articles about the future of journalism. There are some interesting concepts. Here’s a few:

  • Limiting the “fair use” doctrine to address issues posed by news aggregators and search engines.
  • Amending the Copyright Act to create “hot news” protection. While you can’t copyright facts, this doctrine recognizes some quasi-property interest in the value of having the news first, before there is widespread public dissemination.
  • Establish a “journalism” division of AmeriCorps to help “ensure that young people who love journalism will stay in the field.”
  • Collecting fees from telecom users, broadcast licensees or ISPs to create a national fund for local news.
  • Creating “citizenship news vouchers, which would allow taxpayers to allocate some amount of government funds to the non-profit media organization of their choice.
  • In conjunction with the latter, using a non-profit model for new organizations or explore other types of business structures. (A bill that would allow newspapers to qualify as nonprofit entities was introduced in the U.S. Senate in March 2009 and still sits in committee.)

These are just a few of the ideas discussed to one degree or another in the report. As a former newspaper reporter and a readere, I want newspapers and print magazines to survive. At the same time, I am more than a bit leery of government being involved with the funding or structure of news organizations. Just like with churches, I think we are all better served by separation of state and news media.

Still, the only way for newspapers to survive is to explore, discuss and debate a wide range of ideas. Or perhaps I’m just a Luddite unwilling to recognize that the dead tree-based form of journalism will inevitably disappear. If that’s the case, it looks like the FTC is in the same boat.

Beck’s Reporters Love Truth… So Get on These Stories!

Posted: Monday, March 15, 2010 at 1:48 pm
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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(Mr. Gebhart and I are both thinking about newspapers today.)

Randell Beck, publisher of that Sioux falls paper, celebrates Sunshine Week with a celebration of newspaper reporters:

In an era increasingly shaped by ideological trench warfare – a media-saturated world in which folks are lured to consume prepackaged news mirroring their own narrow worldview – the very best reporters challenge authority, ask the hardest questions, challenge conventional thinking and hold accountable those who presume to speak for all of us – all with a relentless fidelity to the truth, “without fear or favor” [Randell Beck, “The Best Reporters Pursue Truth,” that Sioux Falls paper, 2010.03.14].

Like Beck, I am grateful for reporters. The paid media do a lot of investigative work that even the most passioante among us bloggers cannot afford to do on a regular basis. It’s their job to be watchdogs over government and industry for the rest of us who are busy working other jobs all week long.

In that spirit, I hope Mr. Beck will dispatch his reporters to find some truth about the following stories that have yet to get much attention from the newspapers:

  • Rick Millner’s state-supported Veblen East Dairy has been cited for violating DENR regulations. The dairy, now in receivership, appears to follow the same pattern of financial woe and willful environmental disregard that characterize other Millner business ventures. Just what is going on in Veblen, and why has the state offered so much support to this particular mega-CAFO?
  • Last October, Senator Thune voted against an amendment to the defense appropriations bill that prohibits private defense contractors from preventing employees from taking cases of workplace sexual assault, battery, and discrimination to court. Thune’s hometown media in Sioux Falls have yet to hold the Senator to a serious accounting on that vote. (I welcome examples to the contrary.)
  • Beck touts some up-and-coming journalism scholarship winners, saying “we’ve got some pretty strong future reporters in the pipeline.” But they’ve had darn few reporters on the pipeline—the Keystone pipeline, that is. The biggest construction project in the country plowed through South Dakota last summer, tearing up roads and farm fields. Where were the newspaper reports about the disruption and grief caused to our local farmers?
  • Beck shares my thirst for transparency in government. Locally, however, Madison has an economic development corporation, the LAIC, that operates in near complete secrecy. The city and county dump tax dollars into the LAIC, and the public never receives a detailed accounting of how that money is spent. The LAIC keeps a lid on useful information that should be public by charging exorbitant fees for access. Our local newspaper gives the LAIC nothing but the “rainbows and sunshine” one of Beck’s scholarship winners derides.

My fellow bloggers and I can likely offer more examples… but we’ve got to head off to our paying jobs.

p.s.: Beck makes a big deal about how reporters and editors refuse to align with any philosophy and keep their opinions out of their work. Again, Beck peddles the harmful myth of journalistic objectivity. He himself enunciates a clear (and admirable!) philosophy that motivates the best journalists: challenge authority and conventional thinking, hold the powerful accountable, seek truth… sorry, Randell, that’s a philosophy. We do better to wear our philosophies on our sleeves than to pretend we don’t have them.

Beck also invokes God twice in this one editorial. That’s philosophy, too.

Newspapers aren’t reaching the front porch

Posted: Monday, March 15, 2010 at 10:02 am
By: Tim Gebhart
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The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism today released its seventh annual report on The State of the News Media. While it covers all variety of media, it certainly bears out the concerns about my old stomping ground — newspapers. (I’m old enough to remember the transition from typewriters to word processors in the newsroom.) Here’s the metaphor the report uses for newspapers: people who deliver the newspaper “are complaining that the Monday edition doesn’t have enough throw-weight to get all the way up the porch.”

The local daily certainly bears that out. A significant problem, of course, is revenues, an area in which newspapers are not the only ones suffering. The study indicates that newspaper ad revenue fell 26% during 2009, bringing the total loss over the last three years to 43%. Both radio and local television ad revenue fell 22% last year, magazine ad revenue dropped 17% and network TV 8% (and news alone probably more). But the real kicker for newspapers is that the study estimates the industry has lost $1.6 billion in annual reporting and editing capacity since 2000, or roughly 30%.

In 2009 alone, an estimated 5,900 full-time newspaper jobs were shed, numbers similar to 2008. That means roughly one-third of newsroom jobs in American newspapers that existed in 2001 are gone, with the cuts coming in significant part from specialty beats like science, the arts, suburban government and statehouse coverage. These figures threaten an outcome that may make throw-weight concerns irrelevant: newspapers “are flirting with a tipping point where the cutbacks are so great that even loyal audiences give up.”

Across the media board, some of the damage may well be self-inflicted. Attributable in part to cable television and radio, the executive summary observes that 71% of Americans believe most news sources are biased and 70% feel overwhelmed rather than informed by the amount of news and information they see. “Quantitatively,” the study notes, “argument rather than expanding information is the growing share of media people are exposed to today.”

To me, that is more disconcerting than throw-weight: fewer outlets elevating argument over information and objectivity. Combine it all and it’s not a good formula for a marketplace of ideas.