Bob Jenks, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board, a consumer group in Oregon, said that coverage of utilities exposes a bias in news coverage that favors corporate interests. But when readers tell newspapers they want news that helps them keep their heads above the rising water, smart publishers and journalists listen. When the economy stands on the brink of what some warn could be a major downturn, possibly even a depression, readers are eager to know what went wrong, and what they can do to limit the collateral damage to their finances. And save their skins. Newspapers have ended nearly all beat coverage of consumer agencies that are supposed to make sure salmonella does not get into salads, E. coli does not infect hamburger meat, toys will not kill children and prescription drugs are effective.

When you are seen as a valuable ally of your readers in their daily struggles, they will more likely subscribe, and in turn help keep the vital newsrooms afloat. The Internet is, without doubt, slowly weakening the newspaper as we have known it by siphoning off much advertising revenue. But the Internet can also engage new readers and build audiences, without which there is no reason for advertisers to return.

 

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David Cay Johnston covers fiscal and budget matters for CJR’s United States Project. He is a reporter with 46 years of experience, including 13 at The New York Times; a columnist for Tax Analysts; teaches tax and regulatory law at Syracuse University Law School; and is president of Investigative Reporters & Editors (IRE). Follow him on Twitter @DavidCayJ.