News that isn't fit to print Beware of the hidden agendas held by those who say newspapers are dead.

Posted: April 06, 2009

As newspaper companies try to turn themselves around in a brutal economy, under huge debt loads, and amid increasingly funereal media coverage, it's worth looking at the behavior and motives of some of the industry's harshest critics.

Time magazine, which is struggling for its own survival in the hemorrhaging newsweekly marketplace, recently published an article on its Web site titled "The 10 Most Endangered Newspapers in America," which hundreds of news outlets around the world ran under the headline "What Newspapers Will Die in 2009?" (The list included the Philadelphia Daily News, which is owned by The Inquirer's parent company.)

Needless to say, the piece roiled the newspaper industry, sparking denials and rebuttals while driving newspaper-company stocks even lower.

The trouble is that Time's "report" appears to have been fashioned out of pure speculation, with minimal reporting or research. Though most people who read the premature obituary probably assumed it was written by professional journalists at Time magazine, it actually was written by an editor at a Time.com affiliate called 24/7 Wall St.

According to its Web site, 24/7 Wall St. also runs a site called Volume Spike Investor, whose self-described goal is to bring stock market speculators "5 to 10 stock ideas per day in unusual trading activity that we see in stock volume and in options activities. Many of these stocks are among very active and very liquid stocks, yet we will always aim to bring you key ideas in stocks that might not otherwise get noticed."

It's a sad day when Time magazine - once one of the most trusted publications in America - publishes, without a single disclaimer, an unsubstantiated article written by someone who makes his living partly by peddling tips to help day traders jump in and out of stocks.

Another prominent newspaper pundit with questionable motives is the ubiquitous Jeff Jarvis, a former magazine editor and newspaper executive who has built a lucrative cottage industry for himself as a quote machine, author, blogger, speaker, and new-media consultant specializing in one primary area of pontification: the imminent death of newspapers and the rise of a new world order dominated by his favorite company, Google, the subject of his fawning book What Would Google Do?

If any journalist on deadline needs a quote about the imminent death of newspapers, Jarvis will serve one up in a hurry. His blog BuzzMachine features posts with such titles as "Newspapers are f-ed" and "Hitting the coffin nail on the head for newspapers."

I've met Jarvis and found him engaging, but it's disappointing how often he is quoted by other journalists as a "newspaper-industry analyst" or "media critic," without any mention of his bias or his consulting work for new-media companies. While Jarvis' success is clearly a result of his hard work and entrepreneurial zeal, his crusade against newspapers needs to be looked at in the proper context: The more newspaper companies struggle, the better Jarvis does on a number of levels.

Other consistently biased players in the newspaper speculation game are the folks at CNN.com. They have done a wonderful job building up their news site, but they probably would like nothing better than the failure of their biggest competitors: newspapers and newspaper Web sites.

When Denver recently lost its second newspaper, the Rocky Mountain News - leaving the city with one relatively strong newspaper, The Denver Post - CNN ran a huge story on its home page.

Using toilet humor to trash the competition and advance CNN's own agenda, the story began, "The Rocky Mountain News was the latest victim in an era of shutdowns, layoffs and cutbacks plaguing the newspaper industry. 'It's in a free fall and nobody knows where the bottom is. It's kind of like water in the toilet swirling around and nobody knows what's left when you're done flushing,' media critic Eric Alterman said. Newspapers across the country are under pressure as readership declines, along with advertising revenue, while more and more Americans get their information online."

As newspaper companies fight for survival and attempt to rectify many of the mistakes they have made in the last decade, they don't deserve a break from anyone - readers, advertisers, or competitors. What they do deserve, however, is a little more objective coverage - and more detailed disclosure of the possible motives of the "critics" and "analysts" who are hardly unbiased observers.

Randy Siegel is the publisher of Parade magazine, which is distributed by The Inquirer and many other newspapers nationwide.

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