A concerned and conscientious friend of the News-Press came to our editor this last week with an alarming discovery. He’d leafed through the entire edition of the Washington Post’s Saturday, July 1 edition, he said, to find that it had no display ads. None. Period. It was an anomaly for sure, and an unsurprising sign of the times, but not by much.
The problem is a lot worse than we’re being led to believe. It’s not something that a little lip service or “business as usual” approaches will fix. Is it as big a problem as homelessness in America? Well, it is of the same magnitude, and a sure sign of the demise of democracy.
In the case of the Post, of course, nobody really worries because it is owned by one of the richest men in the world, Jeff Bezos, who is apparently willing to lose as much money as it takes to keep the paper afloat. But, sadly, we are not seeing that his ownership of the paper, now one of at most only three powerful newspaper institutions serving the nation’s 330 million people, is based on anything more than the same kind of massive self-interest that is accelerating our society toward a swift and cannibalistic end right now. In Bezos’s case, we are told his involvement has more to do with gaining influence over government agencies that impact his business empire than anything else that could, God forbid, be conceived to be in the greater national interest or anything like altruism. (“Altruism:” that strange little word that has become more outcast in our culture than an orphan child asking for more gruel.) Oh, please tell us we’re wrong, Jeff!
Reading life stories of people like Bezos, not “into the manor born,” not a blue blood but someone who had the skill, and sufficient but not boundless financial resources, at least at first, to parlay opportunities into ridiculous profits, would tend to engender some hope in the rest of us. Maybe this lucky, and without a doubt also genius, one among us will temper his personal gains to the good of us all. Not dumb enough to hold our breath, we’re also unwilling to give up hope.
People just don’t appreciate well enough what the consequences will be, with the demise of newspapers.
What got our founder, owner and editor into this business? It wasn’t to get rich, that’s for sure. It wasn’t to covet influence or power, either. To him it was, and is, his response to a calling to serve, being the seminarian he was, a mission or ministry. Newspapering is far more than merely writing, although it is based on and elevates the use of words.
Its value to us all lies in how it confronts its readers with the totality of what a community represents to each and every one of its fellow citizens, past present and future. Nothing exemplifies and celebrates better what being in a community means.