You are looking at the future of journalism. Okay, I’m exaggerating – a lot. This humble blog is just a humble blog.
But take a few minutes to consider how you, personally, gather information you need or want about the region, the country and the world. More and more, we all have created or are creating our own individual versions of “the news.”
Some of it, as Individual 1 (aka, David Dennison; aka, Donald J. Trump) often reports, really is fake. I would like to think that we could all agree that the crap spewed out by the likes of Alex Jones and Jerome Corsi is fake – but I’m afraid we cannot all agree about even that. Our slant on life is often colored by the places we do our own news gathering.
More and more, we are collectively relying on daily newspapers less and less. Paid subscriptions, except for national papers like the New York Times and the Washington Post, have been dropping steadily. That has led to more of an emphasis on digital subscriptions, with mixed results. While there are apparently cost savings when fewer papers are printed and distributed, the revenue from digital subscriptions is usually a lot less than the price of a printed newspaper that is delivered to a door or is available in a box, so going from printed papers to digital reporting is not an even swap financially.
We have seen this playing out locally as we watched the size of the Buffalo News daily edition shrink by 25 percent while costs for subscriptions and individual papers have increased. Local news reporting has also diminished, with available pages often replaced with stories reprinted from the Times and Post.
That being said, there is still some really good feature reporting going on, in particular the many recent stories about scandals involving nursing home facilities. It is a big issue and it deserves big-time attention. There is a footnote on the story which the News has not reported on yet. The New York State Attorney General has responsibility for monitoring nursing homes and prosecuting crimes at facilities. Crain’s New York Business has noted that the in-coming Attorney General, Letitia James, received substantial contributions from nursing home operators during her recent election campaign. How will that affect things going forward?
One has to wonder how long it might be before the News follows the lead of newspapers in other mid-sized cities like Pittsburgh and New Orleans that have gone to a less than seven-days-a-week printed paper schedule.
Into the breach has stepped alternative reporting of varying forms and degrees of value, mostly on the internet, but sometimes in print or on television and the radio. There is reporting and commentary about politics, cultural issues, and sports – pretty much anything.
There is some great reporting going on in some of these venues, much of it concerning national political issues. Locally Jim Heaney’s Investigative Post has done outstanding work on many issues, most particularly concerning the Buffalo Billion/Tesla project, where their reporting led to significant legal developments involving the principals in that adventure.
The thing is, though, no matter the quality of reporting, digital venues by their nature do not generate the kind of readership and revenues that printed newspapers have in past years. There are no full-page Bon-Ton or liquor store ads filling digital pages. National political websites and digital versions of newspapers can work in some advertising, but advertisers have multiple options for promoting their wares and services. No one venue is overwhelmingly important to them.
The Investigative Post pays its bills with grants, donations and fundraisers. The Public, which has been in the Buffalo area for several years, suspended print publication for a short time in October, recently returning after some successful fundraising. In the interim they continued as a website.
Sports websites, like the one that former Buffalo News sports columnists Jerry Sullivan and Bucky Gleason now write for (Buffalo Maven) are interesting but most likely not very profitable.
I view Politics and Other Stuff in two ways: as a source of information and analysis when I report on such things as campaign financing or reviews of budgetary and operational issues concerning local government agencies; and, as an opinion blog when I am so inclined. I have never shied away from noting my Democratic Party history, but I have tried to remain fair and civil. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t.
I have a link at the top of my introductory page that says “Advertise.” If you click on the link you will find a note indicating that I will not accept ads from candidates or political parties. I would be happy to include ads from non-political businesses or organizations, but I have done nothing to actively solicit advertising, unlike some other local political blogs. Political ads, given the growing interest in this blog, would probably have produced some income for a period of time, but they would have also turned off some readers. I have no problem with you knowing that I am a Democrat, but that is not what has been driving the production of the blog for nearly four years – 288 posts and counting. Along the way I have had the help of some friends in producing the content, including most particularly my editor, Paul Fisk.
I have found the blog to be a lot of fun, and I enjoy the commentary I receive from readers, including many who are not affiliated with the same political party that I am. I value the give-and-take.
All of this being said, I don’t think that the webification of the news and commentary is necessarily a good development for this country. It has driven us too much into our respective bubbles. Problems don’t get solved that way.
What to do about all this? I have no idea. It’s awfully hard to put the genie back in the bottle. But do think about it, because the fate of the country may hang in the balance.
A legislative footnote
Look for a significant development at the Erie County Legislature to be formally announced in the near future. Republican Legislator Kevin Hardwick will likely join the Democratic Caucus following a split with his Republican colleagues. The deal is being orchestrated by Democratic Party and legislative leadership.
A switch in party affiliation could not happen during the 2019 legislative elections. Hardwick, who ran without a Democratic opponent in 2017, will need a Wilson-Pakula authorization to run as a Democrat in 2019. He could face a Democratic primary.
The deal would likely mean that a New Democratic member of the Erie County Water Authority can be more easily approved in April.
Other discussions concerning the legislative reorganization in January are continuing, but whether or not those talks will result in additional changes remains to be see.