Knightfall: Knight Ridder and How the Erosion of Newspaper Journalism Is Putting Democracy at Risk

Merritt, Davis
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Product Compare 0. In , two publicly held media empires merged to become one of America''''s largest newspaper publ..

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Please feel free to duplicate or distribute this file, as long as the contents are not changed and this copyright notice is intact. Mechanical Design for the Stage Scenic effects involving rotating turntables, tracking stage wagons, and the vertical movement of cu.. New York: Academic Press. For people in newsrooms — and I was one of them for more than 30 years — this is intolerable in those who run newspapers. Automobile dealers are among the business world's most aggressive competitors, in part because of the broad array of similar products to sell, and in part because they run in narrow, low-single-digit operating margins, certainly far less than the 25 percent to 35 percent common to even the worst-performing newspapers. But greed can kill American newspapers, thus eliminating the crucial synergy between journalism and democracy.

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W. Davis Merritt

When newspaper profits fall, excessive concern about the next quarter leads to quick fixes on the cost side: hiring freezes, downsizing of space devoted to news, and cutbacks in travel, training, distant bureaus, and staff. The journalists, by instinct and training, and the newspaper process, by its deliberate and layered nature, are uniquely suited and positioned to provide meaningful information. This is easy to verify. Calculate the percentage of broadcast stories on substantive matters that are original, untouched by one or more of those newspapers.

Try the same experiment with your local newspaper and television stations. The numbers will approach zero.

Breaching The Wall

There is, however, hope. A slim chance exists that at least some newspaper companies will successfully transfer their news-gathering and sorting expertise onto emerging technologies before they fritter away their once-deep pool of reportorial and editing talent and thereby surrender their wondrous advantage and squander their primacy. Whether convergence will be the savior of high-level journalism or just another step in its dilution is the subject of much debate within the profession. Whatever the future holds, understanding in detail what happened and is happening to American newspaper journalism is important, if for no other reason than to provide markers along the way back from the abyss.

This book reflects the views of a journalist who spent forty-two years as a reporter and editor for Knight Newspapers and Knight Ridder, Inc. It is not the history of Knight Ridder, for no single point of view can reliably and objectively encompass all of the complex dynamics of a major corporation over nearly five decades. The journey transformed two mid-century family-owned newspaper companies with vastly different cultures into a prototypical twenty-first century American media corporation that is, like other companies in other fields, now forced to redefine its place in a constantly shifting financial and public service environment.

There are no pure heroes and no pure villains in this story. The players were doing what genetics, background, training, and the immediate, ever-changing environment urged them to do. But choices have consequences, and when those choices arise between competing foundational beliefs—that is, conflicting core cultural values—one value system is bound to suffer and the other prevail.

More important, journalistic performance and a viable democracy are fully interdependent, so a decline in journalistic quality caused by the erosion of foundational missions and dedication to public service has important and negative implications for public life, which is the way democracy is expressed and experienced. This story is part reportage, part memoir, part analysis and argument.

The reportage involves dozens of interviews with the participants, as well as extensive reading and research. The analysis and argument are capsulized in this introduction. The memoir portions are designed to show firsthand how the forces at work on newspaper journalists affected one life spent with one company, Knight Ridder, and to contribute a narrative thread to the larger fabric of what has happened to American newspapers.

My undeniable and inescapable bias will become clear soon enough, but let me state it concisely at the outset: Newspaper companies have an obligation to public service and a special obligation to democracy that outweigh all other considerations, save actual survival. When, as has happened, public service and democratic obligations become secondary to profit considerations when actual survival is not at stake, vital aspects of American life are put in great peril. The author of Philistines at the Hedgerow turns his sights on the Manhattan real estate scene complete with outlandish egos, outrageous behavior and conspicuous consumption.

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