[media id=7712] You Tube CNN's Don Lemon talked to David Sirota and Leonard Pitts about the decline of the newspaper industry in the United States.
March 31, 2009

You Tube

CNN's Don Lemon talked to David Sirota and Leonard Pitts about the decline of the newspaper industry in the United States. While I think it was a good discussion and agree with the majority of what was said in it, I'd have to take Don Lemon to task for this statement:

LEMON: If you look at blogs and all of the things, most of the stuff is gotten from newspapers anyway. The other things that -- usually the things that don't come from newspapers turn out not to be on the factual side once it's on the Internet.

While it is true there's a lot of junk out there, that's a pretty broad statement from Lemon and simply not based on facts. For instance, TPM is doing original reporting online, including some real investigative journalism, and Bradblog has been investigating voter fraud and doing original reporting and digging into matters the mainstream media won't cover for some time now. That's just two that immediately come to mind. While I agree that we won't see anything on the Internet that can take the place of the local investigative journalism that our newspapers provide, you can't say that everything that's not from a newspaper online isn't factual.

Full transcript below the fold.

LEMON: We want to talk to you about a subject we talked a little bit about yesterday. It's getting serious. In case you haven't noticed, U.S. newspapers are folding at an alarming rate. Some people are switching to online only. No newspaper in your hand.

Can grab me a newspaper so I can have it?

Others have pulled the plug completely. The "Rocky Mountain News" stopped presses at the end of February. That's after 150 years. The "Seattle Post Intelligencer" fell behind it. It was almost as old as that. Even some of the biggest newspapers, the most well-known papers in the country are bleeding red ink and might not survive.

Should newspapers get a financial bailout? There has been some talk in Washington about it. I think one lawmaker introduced legislation to possibly make them operate as non-profits, tax free. My guess here this evening -- I've written extensively on the uncertain future of the newspapers.

Here again with us tonight is Leonard Pitts Jr., a Pulitzer Prize- winning columnist with the "Miami Herald."

Thank you, sir.

Also with us, another -- I guess you can call him a regular. He's political author and columnist, David Sirota. Both of them writing this week, as a matter of fact, about newspapers, is it the end? Is it the, you know, possibly be bailed out? I for one, I have to say, I'm somewhere in the middle. I get my news on the Internet. And I like, especially the Sunday paper, Mr. Pitts. I like holding this in my hand and reading it.

PITTS: Right. Well, I think that a lot of us who grew up with newspapers have a romantic attachment to newspapers. The problem is those of us who have that romantic attachment tend to be, how shall I put this, of certain age.

Those who have yet to attain that certain age have no romance about it at all.

LEMON: Don't know about it, know about what's going on.

PITTS: Exactly.

LEMON: There are people who say, David Sirota, that you know what, the newspapers are really just sort of relics of the past. Information can be gotten at your fingertip. Why do we need newspapers?

SIROTA: Because newspapers are the original journalists. They do a lot of the leg work in real reporting that the rest of the media uses. If it's talk radio, if it's the Internet, a lot of television stories come from the hard-scrabble reporting of newspapers, metro dailies. They have traditionally been the home of investigative journalism.

If that goes away, it hollows out the rest of journalism. What will talk radio have to talk about if there's no newspaper in a mayor city? What will the Internet, what will bloggers have to blog on if there's no original reporting at newspapers? That's the foundational question here.

LEMON: If you look at blogs and all of the things, most of the stuff is gotten from newspapers anyway. The other things that -- usually the things that don't come from newspapers turn out not to be on the factual side once it's on the Internet.

But let me say this. As I was speaking with you yesterday, Mr. Pitts, you were talking about if newspapers die, the crooks won't cry. We may not have known about Rod Blagojevich or Detroit or Kwame Kilpatrick and other stories if there were not for newspapers. You wrote about it. Do you really believe it's so, though?

PITTS: I believe it's definitely so. I think people are under the misconception that any platform that brings you news is interchangeable with any other platform. That's not the case. Each has different strengths and weaknesses.

This evening, for instance, CNN is covering a shooting in a nursing home, as I recall. I didn't see much of it, but I happened to see that. Well, that's a story that is major and it's breaking and it's something you guys are going to be all over. If, in that same town, the governor is steering contracts to a construction company that is controlled by his brother-in-law or high school chum or something like that, CNN is not going to be the best position to bring that news. It's going to be a newspaper in that city, in the region that has had a reporter parked on the governor's doorstep for days turning into weeks digging through the files and the information that's going to find that story.

LEMON: The way we do that, though, maybe that's part of the solution. The way we do make sure we have inroads or insight into communities or local communities, we have affiliates and partners in those areas.

So should the bloggers and people putting your information out on the Internet become partners? And should people who are receiving that information, should they be paying for it off of the internet? David?

SIROTA: Well, I think there's going to be new partnerships, new collaborations. But the question is whether citizen journalism, if you will, can replace newspaper journalism. I don't think it can.

LEMON: No, not at all.

SIROTA: It was HBO's David Simon who did -- the director of the show "The Wire," who was a former "Baltimore Sun" reporter, who recounted the story about how he looked into a major police shooting there. He said, when I looked through it I wasn't stumbling over bloggers or citizen journalist banging down the doors of the police department. In other words, citizen journalism is not going to replace newspaper journalism. So newspapers are going to have to innovate their way out of it. The way they're going to have to do that is focus in a hyper kind of way on local, local news.

LEMON: Local news and also -- go ahead, Leonard.

PITTS: I was going to say, I think the misconception we have sometimes that nobody's reading the stuff we do in newspapers, it's exactly the opposite. We are being read more than we've ever been read before. The problem is we are being read in a new medium. We're being read online on the Internet. We have not yet figured out a way to turn enough of a profit from the Internet to support the huge news gathering operations we have. That's the problem.

LEMON: I really think the answer is somewhere in there. It becomes a rights issue if you're, you know, your product of what you produce shows up somewhere, you should be able to be paid for it. And newspapers should be able to be paid for it as well.

I think last night's "Saturday Night Live" summed it up when they had a blogger on, being interviewed on the news. He said, what do you doing, are you a full-time blogger? She said, no, I work for an insurance company and blog on the side. It makes the point you are making here today.

We appreciate it. Thank you for joining us.

PITTS: You're quite welcome.

SIROTA: Thank you.

LEMON: Thank you.

Can you help us out?

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