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Newspapers also victim of capitalism

October 17th, 2011

Perhaps it was inevitable – but the triumph of capitalism which has led to poverty, joblessness and the anger of the people around the world also hammered a large nail in the newspaper industry, Angela believes

On Australian radio today a commentator asked, what do they want? She was referring to the thousands, millions, of people who have been protesting in cities around the world this past weekend. Inspired by the OccupyWallSt movement, and more fundamentally ‘los indignados’ of Spain and other European countries, the demonstrations were a cry of rage and pain at the destruction of the economic boom by its supposed guardians, the bankers and financial traders.

A wider view is that these people are angry at the resilience of the triumph of capitalism: even after the disaster which started with the collapse of Lehman Brothers three years ago, and the tide of Euro debt which could drown the EU, the masters of the universe are largely still in place.  As in the 1920s song, the rich get richer and the poor get laid off.

Michael Lewis noted in The Big Short that, when Hank Paulsen championed the $700 billion rescue of US financial institutions three years ago, there was never a whisper of such generous support for the ultimate victims of the sub-prime fiasco, poor people who had lost their homes and were the stooges of a capitalist system that was not just illogical but wicked.

The people ‘Occupying’ around the world are protesting to let off the steam of powerlessness, which has been reinforced by the chain reaction of austerity measures around the world.

And newspapers are picking their way among the ruins of their own industry, and the market ethic which corrupted them and their place in society.

The industry, my core industry, could even be seen as a motif for the triumph of capitalism. A newspaper, a social artefact, was never like a widget, subject to simple profit-and-loss equations, and measures of ‘shareholder value’. Back in the 1970s, a larrikin columnist on my newspaper used to boast that he and his mates would ‘win this place back from the accountants’. A newspaper was a social tool, not just a product to make profit. Granted, the financial viability of a print or broadcast news entity was essential: but making enough money to operate and hire staff got subsumed in the global lust for pforits, multiples, money money money. Good newspaper editors around the world stood up for investment in resources, in reporters and what they needed to expose scams, injustice, hypocrisy.

No, the bean-counters said, all that mattered was the profit profile. Give away CDs or feed readers lots of dross about untalented egomaniacal celebrities. And if you were at News Ltd, or one of its London competitors, get the dirt, get the personal anguish no matter what the morality or even legality of your manoeuvres.

Much has been said about the failure and demise of the ‘business model’ on which newspapers were based – briefly, most income from ads, a token amount from cover price. As circulations plummeted in the 1995-2010 period, the inability to deliver the same number of heads on a plate meant that cash-strapped advertisers fled.

Simply, a newspaper was never just a commercial product; but it was the demands of the proprietors of newspaper companies, buoyed on the tide of unquestioned ruthless capitalism, that ignored this reality and treated the daily accounts of human life in all phases as a pile of widgets.


PS When rambling around the web for similar arguments about media and capitalism, I came across this video of Michael Moore spouting something along these lines – so for all the Moore-heads (haters and lovers), here’s the link… Moore at Toronto Film Festival

And putting both side of the story (although aiming to diss the dismissively-titled ‘grad student’ who crunched the numbers) is this columnist on Gawker, who says surprise, surprise, newspapers were businesses…

Gawker view

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