viernes, marzo 16, 2007

Política e independencia

El 2000 George Bush hijo dijo que rara vez leía los diarios, sin embargo su gobierno ha intentado manipular la prensa (muchas veces con éxito), especialmente desde el 11/9. Del lado de los demócratas, Barak Obama, el joven senador de Illinois y precandidato a la presidencia de EE.UU. reconoce ser un adicto a los diarios, pero también un crítico. En este artículo The Nation reflexiona sobre la estrecha -y a veces insana- relación política/medios y como ésta puede tener efectos negativos tanto en la credibilidad como en los niveles de venta de las empresas editoras. Para la televisión hechos como la censura de Epopeya, lamentablemente tiene costo casi cero: el tema pierde fuerza, las audiencias se mantienen y los avisadores no huyen frente a las heridas. En cambio, para la prensa escrita, el mal manejo de las presiones puede tener consecuencias graves, en especial en la base de su negocio: las ventas.

Por John Nichols
As the November 7 election approached, Jon Tester was getting hit with the full force of Karl Rove's still considerable arsenal. The White House political czar had decided that the way to maintain Republican control of the Senate was to concentrate GOP resources on traditionally "red" states like Montana, where Tester, an organic farmer and state senator, was mounting a populist campaign against scandal-plagued Republican incumbent Conrad Burns. The airwaves filled with attack ads that savaged the Democrat for criticizing the Patriot Act and declared, "Tester is backed by radicals." Former Department of Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge described Tester's championship of civil liberties as "unfathomable, almost inexplicable." Vice President Cheney arrived to paint the Burns-Tester race as a test of "whether this government will remain strong and resolute on the war on terror or falls into confusion, doubts and indecision." President Bush, who carried Montana by twenty points in 2004, showed up to close the deal, as some pundits began to predict a Burns comeback.

Tester, a darling of liberal bloggers, was not going to be saved by flaming posts now. He needed a trusted Montana voice, or better yet a chorus of voices, to come to his defense. As election day approached, he got it. The daily newspapers of the Big Sky State came out, one after another, with endorsements of the challenger. Conrad Burns may have had the President and the Vice President singing his praises, but the Helena Independent Record, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, the Great Falls Tribune, the Montana Standard and the Billings Gazette were telling Montana voters that Jon Tester was one of their own, and that he belonged in the Senate. The Tester camp scrambled on the last Sunday of the campaign to get the word out, sending e-mails that urged supporters to print out a hastily assembled leaflet highlighting the endorsements to pass along to friends, slip under doors and post on grocery store bulletin boards.

Two days later, Tester bested Burns by about 2,800 votes. How did Tester beat back the full-court press of the Bush White House? Before the election, a local conservative commentator had tried to argue that the newspaper endorsements were no more influential than "visits of luminaries or stars or political mucky-mucks coming in from the national scene," while a prince of the blogosphere, Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas, had posted his prediction that the hometown endorsements would still carry weight in Montana. Daily Kos was right. When the votes were counted, it could fairly be argued--and indeed it was--that endorsements from local papers had tipped the seat to Tester and the Senate to the Democrats.

Newspapers may be the dinosaurs of America's new-media age, hulking behemoths that cost too much to prepare and distribute and that cannot seem to attract young--or even middle-aged--readers in the numbers needed to survive. They may well have entered the death spiral that Philip Meyer, in his recent book The Vanishing Newspaper, predicts will conclude one day in 2043 as the last reader throws aside the final copy of a newspaper. But, as the Tester win illustrates, the dinosaurs still have enough life in them to guide--and perhaps even define--our politics.

Especially at the local and state levels, where the fundamental fights for control of a nation less red and blue than complexly purple play out, daily newspapers remain essential arbiters of what passes for news and what Americans think about it. For all the talk about television's dominant role in campaigns (less and less because of its importance as a source of news for most Americans, more and more because of campaign commercials) and all the new attention to the Internet, newspapers for the most part continue to establish the parameters of what gets covered and how. Moreover, neither broadcast nor digital media have developed the reporting infrastructure or the level of credibility that newspapers enjoy. So candidates for the House, the Senate and even the White House still troop into old gray buildings in Denver and Omaha, Louisville and Boston, Concord and Des Moines in search of a forum where they can talk with reporters and editors about issues and where those conversations will, they hope, be distilled into articles and editorials that set so much of the agenda for the political debate at the local, state and national levels.

Thus, while George W. Bush may say he rarely reads newspapers, he sat down in 2000 and 2004 to talk with individual newspaper publishers and editors in hopes of winning the support of publications in such battleground states as Pennsylvania and Ohio. So did Al Gore and John Kerry. And Illinois Senator Barack Obama, a newspaper junkie, is busily making the rounds as he ponders a bid for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. The attention on news pages and support on editorial pages that newspapers can provide is even more important for candidates trying to elbow their way into the competition by raising new issues.

Former Senator John Edwards learned this three years ago, after a Des Moines Register endorsement focused on his ideas about the disturbing development of "two Americas" and ignited his campaign in Iowa's Democratic presidential caucuses. "We were talking about issues, such as poverty, that didn't necessarily lend themselves to soundbites," explained Edwards, who said his campaign, which eventually finished a solid second in the caucuses, experienced a "massive upsurge" after receiving the endorsement. "When a newspaper that people know says, 'Hey, people should be paying attention to what this guy is saying,' it makes a huge difference."
And it's not only in the heat of a campaign that newspapers help set the agenda. Consider, for example, the Chicago Tribune's relentless focus on the injustice of the death penalty, which led a Republican governor to declare a moratorium on executions in Illinois six years ago and, ultimately, to clear death row. Ground-breaking revelations regarding the disputed 2000 presidential election in Florida were uncovered by the Orlando Sentinel and the St. Petersburg Times. And while there is no question that bloggers raised the alarm about Diebold's dubious voting machines before the 2004 election, newspapers were dramatically more aggressive in picking up on concerns about paperless ballots and election abuses than TV networks or local stations during the 2006 campaign.

This is not to suggest that most newspapers do their journalism as well or as wisely as they should, nor that the role of newspapers is still as vital as it was in the 1950s, when President Dwight Eisenhower, worried about the financial difficulties of the New York Herald Tribune, personally wrote millionaire John Hay Whitney and urged him to take charge of the publication because, he argued, it had a "great and valuable function to perform for the future of America." But newspapers remain necessary, at least for now. Unfortunately, necessity does not translate to the sort of profits that contemporary newspaper owners demand--nor to any assurance of the long-term survival of journalism as we know and need it.

Crises like that of the Herald Tribune a half-century ago are now the norm rather than the exception. The newspaper industry is in trouble. Big trouble. In 1950 newspapers in the United States had a weekday circulation of 54 million. The circulation figures are roughly the same today, but the number of households has more than doubled. The Los Angeles Times's daily circulation was down 8 percent in a single six-month period in 2006, while the Philadelphia Inquirer was down 7.5 percent, the Boston Globe 6.7 percent, the New York Times 3.5 percent and the Washington Post 3.3 percent.

With drops in circulation have come declines in revenues--not because subscriptions provide all that much money but because media companies collect money from advertisers based on the number of homes they reach. Big advertisers long ago began shifting from the printed page to television, but now classified advertising, the meat-and-potatoes of local and regional daily newspapers, has begun migrating at dramatic speed to websites like craigslist.

What's happening is not just a temporary downturn. From 1990, when newspaper circulation peaked at 62.3 million, readership has been in steady decline. That might lead some to the casual conclusion that the Internet is the problem. But as veteran journalist and media writer Ben Compaine explains, "The heyday of newspapers was in the late nineteenth century, as expanding literacy combined with the development of the steam-driven rotary press, a market economy and wood pulp-based newsprint to make the mass-circulation penny press possible. From the mid-1800s to the 1920s, newspapers were the only mass-circulation daily news and information medium in the media barnyard. That changed with radio. It accelerated with television. The Internet is just the latest information technology that has added to the choices that consumers and advertisers have for obtaining and creating information." All true, but there is powerful evidence that the breaking point for newspapers may finally be coming.

Individual owners and powerful families--who often, though by no means always, settled for reasonable profits in return for the ego boost that went with putting out a quality newspaper--are exiting the stage. Increasingly newspapers are owned by the shareholders of national chains, who do not even know--let alone care about--the names of the papers from which they demand profit margins that are generally twice the average for other industries. Where a local family might have grudgingly accepted a weak quarter and a downturn in revenues, shareholders greet any softness on the bottom line with demands for draconian cuts. If a paper's current managers are unwilling to make them, investors look for more ruthless managers. Investors forced the breakup and sale, in 2006, of the venerable Knight Ridder chain, which owned Pulitzer Prize-winning newspapers like the Philadelphia Inquirer, the San Jose Mercury News and the Miami Herald. Similar pressures have forced the Tribune Company, which publishes the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, the Hartford Courant and several Florida dailies, to put itself on the block.


3 Comentarios:

Blogger GB dijo...


Esto te puede interesar. Es un comentario reciente de Warren Buffet (extractado de una carta dirigida a accionistas) respecto del futuro de los diarios:

Me pareció interesante su argumentación sobre por qué le interesa seguir siendo dueño de un diario pese a que el negocio no ande de lo mejor. Saludos.

12:16 p. m.  
Blogger dijo...

Hola Andres, excelente variedad de contenidos en tu blog.

El artículo que mencionas, "the man who sold the war" es un gran artículo y sorprende que haya pasado desapercibido en la prensa en general. Lo leí de pasada en una librería acá en washington, un año despues de publicado.

Tu artículo sobre la transformacion que viven los medios es muy intersante. ocurre que los medios están invirtiendo considerablemente en su sección on-line, despidiendo mucho personal y reduciendo inversión en su área de print. Creo que esto lejos de ser negativo, ha permitido que medios como y puedan existir.


12:48 p. m.  
Blogger andrés Azócar dijo...

GB y bitacoreta

Gracias por lo comentarios. CReo que es una vergûenza que nadie en Chile haya reproducido el artículo de la Rolling Stone. Al menos, los alumnos de periodismo hoy pueden acceder a este tipo de investigación y a medios que antes sólo estaban destinados a coleccionistas.

Más allá del periodismo hoy, es interesante registrar como las teorías sobre el futuro de los medios se van moldeando a la realidad de los cambios...y como la imaginación nos permite enfocar un periodismo que mantedrá su escencia, pero que inevitablemente mutará...ojalá para satisfacer a la mayoría de las audiencias y para ganar independencia.

5:21 p. m.  

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