Sounds like an editor

Ten years ago, Jeff vonKaenel—my boss and owner of this alternative newsweekly and others in Chico and Reno—saw something others didn’t. He foresaw the potential of the nascent World Wide Web to steal daily newspapers’ classified ads, their biggest and most profitable source of funding.

SN&R’s editor challenged Jeff to put his predictions into print. He did. Remarkably, you can read that 10-year-old package of stories, “Newspapers R.I.P.,” on SN&R’s Web site today.

Jeff’s predictions were prescient. The Internet is decimating newspapers’ classifieds. And although daily newspapers aren’t yet dead, they are in a world of hurt. Many are losing so much money that they may wish, as Jeff also predicted in 1996, they were out of business.

Jeff revisits the issue in this week’s cover story, “Greedy vultures.” He blames corporate managers for lining their own pockets with cash as they squeeze profits out of a business model that’s clearly failing for operating newspapers. He blasts corporations for destroying the very infrastructure needed to carry newspapers into the future. But this isn’t an “I told you so” story. It’s a lament over the loss of public service that Jeff is convinced will result from the demise of daily newspapers.

He wonders, “Can we run a democracy without the reliable reporting delivered by daily newspapers?” His answer is “no.”

In a society that honors all manner of diversity, we need the credible set of facts that today is delivered by daily newspapers as a starting point for discussion. Short of that, Jeff asks: “How will we distinguish fact from opinion? Who will hold our government accountable? Who will afflict the comfortable, and comfort the afflicted?”

No doubt to some business people and regular folks, that might seem a bit self-important, even self-righteous. But many in the news business—and not just the journalists—got into it for such idealistic motives. Jeff is one of them. When you listen to him discuss why he started alternative newspapers or what the loss of good journalism means to our society, hell, he sounds a lot like an editor.

And that just makes me want to say, “Well hot damn!”