Ask an L.A. Times journalist why people read the L.A. Times (or any similar newspaper), and they are likely to say things like this: the top-notch political news coverage; the Pulitzer-prize winning investigative articles; or the insightful columnists.
Now ask someone at work why he or she reads the L.A. Times. If they do — and increasingly, they don’t — they’ll say things like this: the sports section; the comics; the crossword; the classifieds; or the horoscope (there’s a reason these oh-so-serious papers all carry a horoscope; it sells papers).
Until recently, journalists were able to kid themselves that people read their paper for the hard news and political coverage. And they had their delusions confirmed on a daily basis. After all, whenever they went to parties and dinners, they spoke with other journalists, who all read the paper for the hard news and political coverage. At one of these parties, if you asked someone: “Did you read that article or op-ed by so-and-so about such-and-such?” — why, the chances were good that the other journalist would say yes.
It was thus easy to believe that the hundreds of thousands of subscribers to the paper — or at least most of them — were similarly reading the paper, as they say about Playboy, for the articles.
And then came the Internet age.
Now newspapers can put traffic counters on their Web sites, and they can see at a glance exactly what’s bringing in the traffic. And it ain’t local homicides in South Los Angeles, or the latest Pulitzer-winning series of articles. It’s Paris Hilton and Kobe Bryant.
And, because these same newspapers are losing revenue at an alarming rate, more than ever they feel the pressure to write stories that bring in eyeballs. And now they know exactly what stories those are.
You get the crappy news coverage you ask for — nowadays, more than ever before.
P.S. To his credit, Tim Rutten made these exact points a while back, in this column. I’ll link it because I know you didn’t read it. That’s not why you get the paper.