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Connecticut editor blames single moms, 'social disintegration' for newspapers' decline
Print journalism has been under siege for over a decade. The business has trailed off as readers flock online, and they started doing that even before it was officially documented or worried about. Not everyone predicted that migration, and – if they were in control of a newspaper's future – it didn't help their business.
There's a reason Canwest isn't Canwest. There's a reason the Seattle Post-Intelligencer only posts, no longer prints. There's a reason you all already know the issue I'm currently writing about.
To almost everyone, the Internet is to blame – or to herald (pun intended) – for the print industry's tumble. But, to Chris Powell – managing editor of Connecticut tabloid the Journal Inquirer – print journalism might just be fine if "traditional households" were still, well, traditional.
"This social disintegration and decline in civic engagement coincide with the decline of traditional journalism just as much as the rise of the Internet does," Powell wrote in his column, published on JournalInquirer.com on September 28.
"Indeed, newspapers still can sell themselves to traditional households – two-parent families involved with their children, schools, churches, sports, civic groups, and such. But newspapers cannot sell themselves to households headed by single women who have several children by different fathers, survive on welfare stipends, can hardly speak or read English, move every few months to cheat their landlords, barely know what town they're living in, and couldn't afford a newspaper subscription even if they could read. And such households constitute a rising share of the population."
Powell also seems to believe the online world, the TV world, or the radio world cannot produce journalism, when he writes earlier in his piece, "Certainly the Internet has given journalism a powerful competitor for public attention, just as radio and then television did."
It would be wise, perhaps, for Powell to consult the insane variety of websites that are writing intelligent, thought-provoking, and tediously important content, especially online-only local sites like the Texas Tribune, Honolulu Civic Beat, and the Voice of San Diego, or wide-ranging sites like the Huffington Post (which recently won a Pulitzer) and Tunisia Live.
In short, Powell is unable to find what he would consider to be his paper's moral competition online because he isn't looking for it.
But, his confusing and offensive claim that single mothers and the one-parent system are a primary culprit is dubious at best.
As Slate writer Amanda Hess pointed out in her cleverly penned retort on October 1, Powell's assumptions that single mothers are either illiterate or always skipping out on rent and raising bastardly 21-century casas "are too made up to refute".
Powell also claimed children in households without two parents were "acquiring developmental handicaps", U.S. poverty has increased, the majority of graduated high school students had not mastered basic high school skills, and that democracy "has sunk" because voting numbers are down in recent presidential, state, and municipal elections.
"Perhaps these illiterate, ignorant, felonious welfare queens aren't buying Powell's newspaper because they do not actually exist," Hess writes.
"Despite Powell's assertion that a "rising" proportion of single-parent families have killed the newspaper industry, several of the social ills he identifies are not, in fact, escalating. The U.S. illiteracy rate has not budged in 10 years. The U.S. poverty rate did rise during the recession – to about the level it was in 1993. Other claims in Powell's piece – that single mothers can hardly speak, "barely know what town they're living in," and are single-handedly imbuing their children with "developmental handicaps" – are too made up to refute. (If Powell had properly optimized his op-ed for publication on the Internet, perhaps he could have provided links to his sources?)"
Like any good debater, Hess saves her strongest serve for last:
"Here’s an alternate theory: Nobody wants to read Chris Powell’s newspaper because it is the worst."