Fate of the Free Press

Yesterday the Detroit Free Press announced that come next year, the paper will be delivered to home subscribers only three days a week (Thursday, Friday, and Sunday). This, according to the self-congratulatory praise to failure that is editor Paul Anger's piece in today's paper, is the answer to the "crushing business realities" that are currently afflicting the newspaper business in general and the Free Press in particular.

While Mr. Anger promises that the paper will devote more resources to "up-to-the-minute reporting" and other exciting content, this is merely window dressing on the real reasons for the decline in the newspaper business, reasons that publishers and editors stubbornly refuse to confront. Newspapers love to promote themselves as the guardians of accountability, yet the Free Press continues to employ and prominently feature Mitch Albom, who fabricated a story (including the dateline) out of whole cloth and was rewarded with a paid vacation and without penalty.

The Free Press punctuated their fawning, shallow coverage of Barack Obama by
promoting a commemorative t-shirt of the front page celebrating his election, the same offer made after the Pistons, Wings, or Tigers do anything significant. The similarity in reaction and mindset is telling.

This past autumn, the Free Press endorsed candidates for national office such as Carl Levin, whose 30 years of votes and policy proposals have contributed to the "crushing realities" of the economic status of the state of Michigan. The Free Press employs no regular columnist who is able to present a conservative perspective, yet employs a veritable army of leftists on all fronts: Albom, Rochelle Riley (the paper's resident race card dealer), Brian Dickerson, and the editorial board. The paper increasingly relies upon AP accounts for general news stories, and the AP is notoriously to the left.

None of these salient issues are addressed in Mr. Anger's piece, which means they are not being publicly considered by the leadership of the newspaper -- which means there is no public accountability as to their own failures. The assumption is that newspapers are just one more entity caught up in a struggling economy, beholden to forces beyond their control. Mr. Anger promises to renew the commitment the paper has plastered on its masthead from the beginning - "On Guard." The only problem is that Mr. Anger and his colleagues at the Free Press continue to fail to guard against their own hubris and their failure to present a straightforward, balanced newspaper, a product that constantly and deliberately alienates more than half of its customer base. Mr. Anger and his ilk can pat themselves on the back from now until the end of time, and continue to rework the website and content presentation. But until newspapers learn that agenda-driven entities that claim objectivity will wither and die in this environment, well, they will wither and die in this or any other environment.

That demise will be richly deserved. As an astute and longtime reader of the Free Press and several other papers -- a person who loves the Internet but values the printed page just as much -- wrote to me upon reading what the Freep intends to do: "They must think people are stupid if they're trying to spin this as an 'innovation.'" Just so. 

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