Michael Moore: "Capitalism killed the newspaper"

by Mark Medley, National Post

Michael Moore gave his "two cents" on the state of the daily newspaper at Monday morning's press conference for his latest film, Capitalism: A Love Story. Moore revealed an earlier cut of the film explored the hard times facing the industry, but ultimately decided the issue was too large to fit into the film, adding it may warrant a film of its own down the road.

"If you want to give me 90 seconds," he told the press, "I'll give you my two cents about why I think a year from now, or two years from now, we're not going to have daily newspapers, and that we're in the last year of reading the daily newspaper. And for those of you who are from daily newspapers, I thought about, before I came here, I though this the last time I'm going to talk to some of these papers, which is kind of a sad feeling - that I won't see you again unless you're on the Internet after this. This is it. So, do you want to hear that?"

"Of course they want to hear that," replied moderator Thom Powers.

"Two main things I want to say: Why aren't the newspapers in Europe going under? It's not that newspapers in Europe are having an easy time - again, we're in an economic recession that's worldwide, but why aren't they going under? The American newspapers, oh they say 'It's the Internet. Papers are getting killed by the Internet.' Last I've heard they've got the Internet in Europe. And they've got the Internet in Japan. So why aren't their papers folding like ours are going under? European, Japanese, other countries many, most, of their newspapers, the primary source of their funding is circulation. Advertising is second. In our country, advertising is the primary source of funding, circulation is second.

Anything you say that the people who read your newspaper are secondary to the business community you've lost, eventually you're not going to survive at that point when you're primary concern is the advertiser. In Europe, they know in order to keep circulation up they better put out a damn good newspaper. They better put out something that people read, and they better not cut too many reporters because if certain beats aren't being covered, people aren't going to read the paper.

I interviewed David Simon, he used to work at the Baltimore Sun, and of course did The Wire and other projects, and he was talking about way back in the early 90s, when he left, when he was bought out, when they were trying to downsize the Baltimore Sun, they got rid of the courts beat, they got rid of the crime beat, they got rid of the labour beat, they got rid of the poverty beat reporter. I don't know if you've ever been to Baltimore, but poverty? Courts? Labour? If you stop reporting on the things that the people in the town are really concerned about, they may stop reading your newspaper. But the bottom-line bean counters who've come, the corporations who've bought out these newspapers, they come in and they say, 'How can we get more news for less money, less employees? Same theory of General Motors that I watched twenty years ago. How can we get rid of half the employees but still put out the same number of cars? We'll just make everybody work twice as hard and we'll save money doing that. And that's what happened to our newspapers.

But here's the other thing that happened. We live in a nation of 40 million functional illiterates: that's 40 million adults who cannot read and write above a fourth grade or fifth grade level. We have another probably 40 million adults who can read and write above a fourth grade level but don't have the comprehension beyond that very much. So if you have literally that many tens of millions of adults who either can't read and write above a fourth and fifth grade level or can't comprehend what they do read, you've created a nation of people who are not going to be reading the newspapers.

Now how did we get that way? How did we create so many illiterate and ignorant people? It's because we have made education such a low priority in the United States. And what party has led the way? The Republican Party. Every convention they have a thing in their platform about dismantling the Department of Education. Americans, right, they want to get rid of the Department of Education. They hate the teacher's union. They give it as little money as possible. In the 17 elections between 1940 and 2004, the majority of American newspapers endorsed the Republican candidate for President 14 of the 17 elections. 14 of the 17 elections the majority of American papers" - he begins to yell - "endorsed the party that was going to cut back on the very thing that their readers needed in order to read the newspaper, which was literacy and education. These newspapers slit their own throats by siding with the group of politicians - I mean, it would be like General Motors funding candidates who promised to get rid of Driver Education. As dumb as General Motors is, what car company would support the elimination of Driver Education, and yet America's newspapers in 14 of the 17 elections between 1940 and 2004 supported the candidate that would guarantee their ruination. Good riddance.

Too bad for all of us in a free society that we won't have these daily newspapers that are supposed to act as a watchdog to those in power. Too bad that we allowed this to happen. Those who survive, or those who will rise up out of the ashes of this mess, hopefully will follow the models of the Europeans newspapers like the Frankfurt morning paper, which is a non-profit newspaper, they don't exist to make a profit because the purpose of a newspaper shouldn't be to make a profit. It should be there to pay its bills so that it can do its job. Or The Guardian, in London, which is owned by a trust, because a newspaper is a public trust, and we will suffer as a society without them. And it is not the Internet that has killed them. It is their own greed, it is their own stupidity, and it is capitalism that has taken our daily newspapers from us. Thank you for those 90 seconds."

It was closer to 7 minutes, but whatever.

article originally published at National Post.

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey