In the avalanche of reporting and commentary on the collapse of the newspaper business, a number of salient, none-too-flattering facts have been overlooked about how newspapers contributed to their own demise, Bill Wyman writes on Splice. First, there's the misunderstanding that readers pay for news. It's advertisers who pay, and in the boom years, rich profits from that advertising were devoted to pleasing Wall Street, not preparing for inevitable threats to the papers' monopoly in delivering those ads.
"The papers were taking their profits and investing in a future not of technological change and institutional challenges," he writes, "but one defined only by the search for more profits." Then there's the misunderstanding that newspapers are civic watchdogs. In fact, in the interests of defending their monopoly positions, Wyman argues, most newspapers became "lapdogs" that pander to the sensibilities of readers they can't afford to offend. "A large part of what we called 'newsgathering' was basically providing additional promotional coverage for its advertisers."