Friday, September 6, 2013

End of an Era?

Moments ago, a local judge denied a preliminary injunction to a very possible deal (between Stephens Media and some Greenspun family members) to end the joint operating agreement (JOA) that officially allows for the printing and physical distribution of two newspapers in Southern Nevada. This may not seem like a big deal at first glance, but take a closer look. There's more to this.

Sure, overall newspaper circulation has been in decline for years. And specifically here, the Las Vegas Sun has struggled to stay in business for nearly a decade. The JOA is likely the only reason why there's any Sun print edition at all. Most folks (moiself included) now get their news by other means, such as the great wide world of the internet. (Hey, that's what's allowed me to report, comment, on bloviate on the news here!)

Speaking as an internet person myself, the rise of blogs, online news clearinghouse sites, web-izines, and other news sites has very much changed the way we see news. A century ago, we had to wait until the newspaper was delivered to see the headlines. But now, one can click on a variety of sites from a variety of internet enabled devices to see what's happening in the world.

But you know what? Even though I'm very much an internet person, I still appreciate newspapers. They invest in newsrooms, dedicated reporters, and respected space for the community to discuss the important issues of the day. Hell, newspapers often help me and other bloggers catch onto stories we might otherwise miss!

This is why the possible death of the Las Vegas Sun concerns me. I know there are folks at that paper who still want to deliver quality content. While recent cost-cutting moves have resulted in more "fluff", there are still reporters there hunting for the truth. And while the editorial pages often seem to reflect the views of certain "friends in high places", they at least offer different points of view that one can't always find in the other "newspaper" in this town.

And that's what makes today's news at least somewhat alarming. The "newspaper's" management long ago quit caring about their reputation and allowed the state’s largest paper to become the state's largest laughingstock. Can we afford to allow the "newspaper" to become the only paper in the state’s most populous county?

Or does it even matter any more? As I alluded to above, recent budget cuts and "editorial makeovers" at The Sun have resulted in that paper losing a whole lot of serious journalistic talent as it's become more focused on repeating celebrity gossip than highlighting the real reporting from the journalists who are still there. And with the rise of TV newsrooms and online news sites, there are at least theoretically alternatives to the one "newspaper" left standing...

Except that's in theory. What about reality? Just how invested are the local TV stations in supporting real journalism? And can a few scrappy web sites truly make up for losing what was once a great paper?

For now, Southern Nevada still has two newspapers in circulation. We just don't know how much longer this will last. In so many ways, the slow and ugly decline of The Sun reflects the brutal reality of print journalism's dilemma in The Digital Age. And both the recent tabloid-ization of The Sun & the decimated reputation of the other "newspaper" remind us of what happens when corporate profit seeking gets in the way of reporting the news. We may be nearing the end of an era for Southern Nevada, but this is only the continuation of a disturbing trend in journalism.

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