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The newspaper belongs in the trash

By Rachel Alexander
web posted November 10, 2008

Traditional media outlets are dying and savvy conservative politicians have taken to ignoring them -- or hastening their demise. Instead of subjecting themselves to heavy-handed interviews and biased coverage, Republicans are finding other ways to reach the public with their campaign messages. It's an approach the McCain-Palin ticket may have adopted too late. McCain's campaign manager Rick Davis asked, "Why would we want to throw Sarah Palin into a cycle of piranhas called the news media that have nothing better to ask questions about than her personal life and her children?"

In McCain's Arizona, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio recently took the right's campaign against the MSM to a new level by running an anti-media television ad. In the ad, which touts his record as Sheriff, Arpaio instructs voters to throw the local newspapers away. "You can never believe everything you read," Arpaio says, holding up copies of the Arizona Republic and the East Valley Tribune. "So when these are delivered to your house, they belong in the trash." He then throws the papers into a garbage bin. This year, knowing full well in advance the Arizona Republic was not going to endorse either of them for reelection given the paper's constant negative coverage of them, Arpaio and Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas told the paper "no thank you" to an interview. In a joint press release, the two said in part, "the Arizona Republic board has been one of the biggest voices against steps we have successfully taken to reduce Valley crime. Even the paper's own lawyer has been opposing us outside of its own pages…They will talk about our opponents in glowing terms while ignoring their own research which would alert the public to embarrassing, disgusting or way too soft on crime information about our opponents."

With newspaper circulation rates declining, it has finally become safe for conservative politicians to pick fights with people who buy ink by the barrel. According to numbers just released by the Audit Bureau of Circulations, the Arizona Republic's circulation has shrunk 5.5% since 2007. Over the six years prior to that, the Republic's circulation dropped nearly 11% -- even though Arizona's population grew by 20%. Circulation of major newspapers around the country had been declining about two percent each year, until last year when their decline increased; by 3.7 percent on weekdays and 4.6 percent on Sundays.

The Republic used to be a middle of the road newspaper until Keven Willey became editorial page editor in 1998. Under her lead, the paper took a hard turn to the left. Willey left in 2002 to become editorial page editor of the Dallas Morning News. That newspaper has had a steep decline in circulation throughout Willey's tenure, most recently decreasing 11.7% since 2007. Randy Lovely took over as managing editor and then executive editor of the Republic when Willey left, continuing its more liberal slant (though the paper did endorse John McCain for president).

At the same time the Republic began declining, a right-leaning blog called espressopundit.com emerged and devoted considerable coverage to the Republic's demise. Blog owner Greg Patterson had access to inside information, revealing in advance layoffs and other shakeups at the paper, accompanied by photographs of a sinking ship.

The other major newspaper in the Phoenix area, the East Valley Tribune, recently announced that it would no longer include Scottsdale and Tempe, two of the biggest cities in its coverage area, and was reducing publication of its print edition to four days a week.

Newspapers aren't having much success moving operations online. Graphs from alexa.com show that the Republic's azcentral.com site has been gradually losing visitors over the past year, and traffic to eastvalleytribune.com has also declined.

Refusing to interview with the liberal newspapers is catching on around the state. Republican legislative candidate Frank Antenori in southern Tucson announced that he would not be seeking the endorsement of both the Arizona Daily and the Tucson Citizen, saying his time would be more effectively spent knocking on doors. Antenori won on Tuesday.

The most popular political blog in the state, the conservative sonoranalliance.com, gets around 1,000 unique visitors each day. Considering only 4% of newspaper subscribers read editorial pages, and the Republic is down to only 361,333 subscribers, that means only 14,453 of subscribers are likely reading its editorial pages. Depending on how many of sonoranalliance.com's readers are repeat visitors each day, there may now be more people reading that blog than are reading the Republic's editorial pages. It is time to start giving reputable blogs the status historically given newspapers, because they are gradually becoming the newspapers of the future. Just like Fox News and talk radio destroyed the hegemony of the major TV news networks, blogs are now taking down the left's last media bastion, print media. ESR

Rachel Alexander is co-editor of IntellectualConservative.com. This essay originally appeared in The American Spectator.

 

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