A Slap-Your-Head Bloomberg Column on Newspapers’ Decline

Kevin “Dow 36,000” Hassett, somehow has a column at Bloomberg. Occasionally I read it.

As a media critic who writes about financial coverage, a recent column of his caught my eye with this headline:

Failed Liberal Newspapers Earn Boot, Not Bailout

Yes, Hassett’s column is about blaming the decline of the newspaper industry on its supposed liberalism, as opposed to, say, the almost impossible-to-fix economic rupture to its business model caused secularly by the Internet and cyclically by the financial crisis.

That’s dumb on its face, but let’s take a look at how he justifies it. I’m sure you’ll be unsurprised that he doesn’t.

You know you’re in for unreasoned argument from the top, which reads:

When last week’s employment report came in a tad better than expected, it sent a chill through the hearts of Washington’s Democrats.

Those jobs-hatin’ Democrats! They want everybody out of work so they can spend a bunch of money. Or something.

Next the straw man. The Democrats and their media cabal are planning to bail out newspapers. As evidence, Hassett cites one column in the Los Angeles Times and the dinky little hearing on newspapers that John Kerry recently held.

Never mind that nobody’s seriously considering such a thing. And never mind that the Democrats (and President Bush before them) have been busy bailing out his “free market” pals to the tune of trillions of dollars.

And, finally, the newspapers-went-liberal-on-us thing. Talk about cherry picking:

Interestingly, the news isn’t bad everywhere. In a pattern that is reminiscent of Fox News’ climb to television dominance, circulation for the right-leaning Wall Street Journal increased last year.

First off, the Journal’s news pages are about as neutral as they come, despite the editorial page’s conservatism.

And sure, the Journal’s circulation is up—but, hey, people are interested in financial news these days. Hassett doesn’t say anything about truly conservative papers like the New York Post and The Washington Times. Without right-wing publishers bankrolling their millions of dollars of losses a year, the market would eat both up in about two days.

But newspapers aren’t in trouble because readers hate them. More people read them every day now than ever. The New York Times is the unspoken subject of Hassett’s column, but it gets twenty million readers online every month, some twenty times its print circulation. The problem nobody’s figured out how to effectively monetize the online readers yet.

You just have to wonder if Bloomberg has somehow figured out how to monetize the likes of Hassett.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at rc2538@columbia.edu. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.