Newspapers in the downturn


Continuing with the economic theme this month, I got a large dose of depressing news while attending the American Jewish Press Association (AJPA) conference last month in Evanston, Ill. In a nutshell, newspapers are struggling to survive as advertising revenues plummet.

We are talking about The Circle, as well as my newspaper and the daily papers. The demise of big city daily newspapers, in particular, means that the watchdog role traditionally played by the press will be greatly weakened. In this era of Wall Street rip-offs, Ponzi schemes and political corruption, investigative journalism plays a vital role.

The conference did have at least one upbeat workshop; although its title, “Community media in the age of disintegration,” sounds kind of grim. Ethan Michaeli is a former investigative reporter for the Chicago Defender, an illustrious African-American newspaper founded in 1905. He is the executive director of We The People Media, which publishes the Residents’ Journal, a periodical he founded for, and by, low-income Chicagoans. His group also runs the Urban Youth International Journalism Program.

Michaeli stressed the importance of the ethnic press. He reminded us that we’re “reaching somebody” and play a “powerful role” in our community. He also stressed that the news we publish has to include the dominant society.

Another participant in the workshop put it this way: “Speak for the people; take a role; be active.” This isn’t the time for dispassionate, objective journalism – it doesn’t exist anyway.