Thursday, January 2, 2014

How Climate Science Deniers Exploit Corporate Newspaper Shrinkage

How are the gatekeepers of truth in public discourse supposed to function when they're being laid off by the hundreds in the name of higher profits? While a few newspapers like the Los Angeles Times are taking a stand against opinion pieces that get the facts wrong on climate science, smaller newspapers across the country are getting overrun by climate science deniers.

This week's example: Steve DiMarzo Jr.'s climate science-denying op-ed in the New Bedford Standard-Times. It's not just that it's filled with easily-disproved lies. It's filled with quotes that aren't attributed to any source at all. Who said them? Is DiMarzo just making up quotes as he goes? Readers are left hanging.

That's such an egregious miss, I can't believe an editor even read the piece before printing it. The Standard-Times has been hammered by round after round of layoffs with the latest hitting just two months ago. Nationwide, a Pew Research Center report shows newspaper editorial employment has fallen by a third in just the last 15 years.

But here's the thing: The Standard-Times isn't losing money - it's profitable. It just wasn't making enough money for its corporate owners, so the layoff ax swung. Remaining staffers are being asked to do the jobs of several people and subscribers are being asked to pay the same price for a product of lesser quality. No wonder ranked newspaper reporter last out of 200 career fields, below dishwasher, oil rig worker and lumberjack.

A similar story is playing out at the nearby Providence Journal. As Dean Starkman has documented, the paper's corporate owners have been laying off newsroom staff to fund huge executive bonuses. Its op-ed page has turned into a haven of climate science denial and I've heard the editorial page editor tells people that's by design, that playing to the lowest common controversy makes for good reading.

Declining newspaper readership rates are often covered as proof of the declining literacy among the American public. But readers know when they're being sold an inferior product. Why spend $20 a month to read climate science denial in the local paper when it's already available for free on Drudge Report or Rush Limbaugh?

Just check the reader comments on the DiMarzo op-ed. When your customers are openly asking the equivalent of "what is this shit?" maybe it's time to reinvest in the product.

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