The Ghost of News Future
With No Papers
Sam Zell of the Tribune Newspapers Has Nightmares
Join us now, at ACT III, as we see Sam Zell , one who turns around failing businesses and newspaper media conglomerates, confronted with diminishing revenues. He has just filed for bankruptcy for his Tribune newspapers It is three o'clock in the morning, Christmas Eve has blended into the earliest of Christmas Day:
Act I. Ghost of News Past: see battalions of newsboys hurling papers about to eagerly paying customers.
Act II. Ghost of News Present: see newsboys applying for other jobs, customers going online or to papers they Trust.
Act III. Now: Ghost of News Future! Clang, clangety, clang. And a visit to Celestial Bankruptcy Court
SAM: Oooh. Who's That!
GHOST (enters) News Past, Sam. (And the ghost conjured pictures while it intoned):
News used to be on paper, or in your ear. Safe, slowski. Have your coffee and your muffin near a paper and no keyboard would be destroyed. Clip, save, point out something interesting and show it to somebody. Mark the margins. You loved that, didn't you?
SAM. Yes, I did (rolls over, with visions of himself as a young sprout).
Scene: Sam is still sleeping, tossing more now. Bong, bong. Clink, rattle.
SAM: Ooooh. Who's That!
GHOST (enters) News Present, Sam. (And the Ghost conjured pictures while it intoned):
Change came to the Times. Newspaper owners had to cut costs. Revenues were down. They directed their clerks (pronounced "clarks") and lackeys to cut hard news, fire people, add ads and insert puppies. The clerks stepped in instead of reportes and columnists, and misquoted, abbreviated, and focused on local police blotters.. FN 1. The people get their news on the internet, opined the owners. So we will entertain the people instead. Or slant them to death.
But it was not so. The people could not get their news on the internet. It could not be so, because many people are not on computers, like much of North West Connecticut, unless they pay for their own wagon trains of internet tubes.
Was it part of a Plan do exploit the lack of computer coverage, that the unimportant people not get such access unless they already have it?
Ah. Then they cannot get to FactCheck, to counter with information the canny fact-free parrots on radio and in the wings of newspapers when they are cut.VOICE FROM BACK ROW: THE FCC. Ho, ho. We know who we really work for.
SAM: This is only business, Ghost, said Sam, wiping hands on sheets. Need a profit. People getting neutral, accurate information is not my business. (And Sam fired some more people).
Scene I: Sam is tossing fitfully, barely asleep now. Repeat: Bong, bong, bong. Clink, rattle. Ooooh, Who's that! News future, Sam. And the ghost conjured up images, while it intoned.
You are like the car industry. You offered people a product, but you were driven by thoughts of hoard and income and profit. You side-railed analysis of a vision long term - how the product can also serve the goals of the country in a global setting.
The country doesn't want your product in your old form, Sam. And it doesn't want what you did to it when you took over - all that cutting of the very components that made your product, at least as it was, a "news" paper. Look: I see this coming at you - you listening to the terms coming from the Celestial Bankrupcty Court. You do not look happy! What can you do to preempt the need for these dire steps?
SAM: Must I offer to take remedial steps on my own, even if the shareholders do not profit? Fie! That's why we privatize papers. We don't want accountability to anybody else. (Sam threw off the covers, dashed to his desk. He picked up a script) What is this? Is this what I am to do.
This is not what I planned! he moaned. I had it all laid out! News makes money as Entertainment! Get the people to buy dross! It always worked before!
GHOST: That was then, Sam. Now see what is in store (Ghost and Sam flap off to Celestial Bankruptcy Court).
ZELL: Oh, no!
GHOST: Oh, yes!
And, where the paper the only daily home-delivery paper available, add a separation of opinion from information. This brings news papers to their roots - news information before slant. Or, at least a source as available as the news paper, for full news so that the reader can pick up the slant and distinguish it from news. News today has dropped the informational component in favor of slant in every column, without the full information provided. Enough.
In order to obtain the restructuring - reorganizing you want, Sam Zell, you must provide True Journalism Obligatories:
- complete and neutral news
- in a readily accessible form, and
- in that regard as a fiduciary to the people, not as spokesman for shareholders or your own views, and
- backup content ratings for that news.so that if you provide skewed news, the people will be Aware. See Joy of Equivocating, Fact Content for News Industry.ZELL: What about my free speech rights!
GHOST: No, Sam, replies the ghost. There are always possible restrictions in time, place and manner placed upon speech. If yours is the only paper, you have special responsibilities to the public. (Zell groans). You can even define the terms you use, fill in an educational component, given the poor quality of many public schools, drop-out rates.
ZELL: (Groans). But my pocketbook!
GHOST: You will be fine. I am sure you have sufficient, and have squirreled away Options. Now, you can follow Andrew Carnegie! The Richest Man!
ZELL: I'm listening.
GHOST: Hear of your new role model: Andrew Carnegie set the example for Voluntary Divestment for the Public Good. This was in Victorian Times, when he was named The Richest Man In The World. You shall follow suit and use your personal fortune during your lifetime to foster universal computer skills and literacy, because, as Andrew Carnegie points out, only losers hoard for heirs and dependents, beyond moderate needs, and winners know they can do big jobs better than the government, see Gospel of Andrew Carnegie, Victorian Everyman.
(Groan. This, from Sam).
Don't groan, Sam. You can get back to news. If paper is really history, at least you would have done your part to see that the current readership without computer or English skills can indeed get their news online. And then you make money again.
(Zell exits, rubbing his calloused hands, and even smiling) (CURTAIN)