Tags: newspapers | decline | Web

Print Media Is Besieged

Tuesday, 24 Mar 2009 01:04 PM

By Arnaud de Borchgrave

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Long gone are the days when President Kennedy said he got more out of The New York Times than out of the CIA.

The print media is besieged. Foreign bureaus of newspapers and national magazines have been closed by the score all over the world.

Washington's National Press Building has dozens of offices for rent. Daily newspapers are dying in print and reincarnated online, where they compete with everything from free blogs to free social networks such as YouTube, Flickr, Twitter, Facebook, and FriendFeed.

Newspaper bankruptcy attorneys are prospering. And few people can remember accurately what they caught on television news as they get the kids ready for school, or stagger home from an exhausting day at the office. Untold millions get their news fix online while at the office.

Almost 250 million of the 338 million people in North America are online — a 73.1 percent penetration, according to Internetworldstats.com. (Asia has 650 million on the Internet, which is only 17.2 percent of its population.) Politico reported last week that, "for the past two years, several hundred left-leaning bloggers, political reporters, magazine writers, policy wonks and academics have talked stories and compared notes in an off-the-record online meeting space called JournoList."

Although JournoList may sound like the kind of place where dominant media culture gurus meet to set the agenda, site creator Ezra Klein, a 24-year-old American Prospect blogger, told Politico it's just a place "where journalists and policy wonks can discuss issues freely."

JLister Eric Alterman, a left-wing writer for The Nation, concedes he's seen discussions that start on the JournoList enter the dominant news stream beyond.

Politico's Michael Calderone reported, "Last April, criticism of ABC's handling of a Democratic presidential debate took shape on JList before morphing into an open letter to the network, signed by more than 40 journalists and academics — many of whom are JList members." JListers' echo chamber ranges from liberal to left-wing.

Technorati, which keeps tabs on World Wide Web developments, is tracking 113 million blogs — not including 73 million Chinese blogs. How younger reporters can discern between legitimate news and mental lucubrations remains a mystery.

Ernest Hemingway said any good reporter needed a built-in bullfeathers detector. But this becomes a real challenge when confronted with 10,000 possible answers on Google.

A central theme of the "Global Guerrillas" blog for the past five years has been that the traditional nation-state "is caught in the grip of two aggressive groups of super-empowered global guerrillas — the global barons of financial capitalism attacking from above and tribes/gangs/and terrorists thrusting from below," according to a recent post on the blog. The nation-state clearly is losing its struggle with these groups, the blog said.

And this is already going mainstream. A "Global Guerrillas" post entitled "Zeitgeist Watch" said that Matt Taibbi's article for Rolling Stone, "The Big Takeover," captures this shift, now spreading across the Internet virally via blogs and social networks.

Another offering that would sound legitimate to a younger reporter with little foreign experience is a report from the Iranian broadcaster Press TV, "CIA Report: Israel will fall in 20 years," which documents a CIA study that reportedly casts doubt on Israel's survival.

The report, republished on a number of blogs, goes on to quote international lawyer Franklin Lamb as saying that more than 500,000 Israelis — 300,000 in California alone — hold U.S. passports, and Israelis who do not have a Western passport have already applied for one.

The palpably fraudulent is interspersed with legitimate columns by Nobel economics prize-winner Paul Krugman, who writes that Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner's plan to detoxify toxic subprime mortgage assets is "hocus-pocus," or Igor Panarin, dean of Russia's Foreign Ministry school for future diplomats, saying in his regular, state-guided TV program that President Obama will order martial law this year as the U.S. splits into six rump states before 2011.

Many other whoppers also stretch credulity. How to sift fact from fancy in this global digital soup has not yet been taught in schools of journalism.

Jonathan Lebed, who puts out the widely read Lebed.biz newsletter, wrote that "the upcoming gold boom will be bigger than the dot-com and real estate booms combined because the dollar bubble is much larger than the previous bubbles at their peaks combined, and as the dollar starts to collapse in a downward spiral, gold could literally go to infinity. When I predict gold goes to $5,000 per ounce over the next few years, this is only if (Federal Reserve Chairman) Ben Bernanke, Obama and the Congress reverse course immediately. Every day that goes by where Congress distracts Americans with nonsense while the Federal Reserve prints trillions in new dollars, the odds increase that we will see hyperinflation and gold will go much higher than $5,000 per ounce."

Lebed correctly predicted the imminent collapse of the real estate market in 2005.

Unedited blogs rapidly are becoming news sources. Much of it is scary stuff, from nightmarish economic and financial meltdowns to chilling war attractions to come in the Middle East. The collapse of daily print journalism is a threat to democracy itself. How to distinguish between clutter and good stuff is a constant challenge as attention becomes a scarce resource.

"Something of historic proportions is happening," shouts "a student of history" who claims to have written 15 books in six languages. A perfect storm is brewing, he writes as he casts Obama as a populist leader out of the 1930s.

Peter Morici, former chief economist at the U.S. International Trade Commission, is all over TV, radio, and the Internet with dire warnings of worse things to come: At best, we'll be taken back to 1970s France; at worst, 1700s France — before the revolution of 1789.

Morici, who teaches at the University of Maryland's business school, said, "What's becoming quite apparent is the Obama administration really isn't in control. It doesn't really understand what the various programs and proposals it's putting out there are going to cost. And the sad thing is, all this spending is not going to get us out of the recession, because so much of the money is so poorly spent."

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