Is journalism the only industry whose quality is adversely affected by the capitalist drive to increase profit margins?
You might think so, judging by the media response to the resignation of Jay T. Harris, publisher of the San Jose Mercury News. Harris abruptly quit his job as chief of the Knight Ridderowned daily earlier this spring--with a public salvo aimed at his bosses. "So far," he wrote, "we have been unable to find a way to meet the new [financial] targets without risking significant and lasting harm to the Mercury News as a journalistic enterprise."
Harris's action gained him widespread acclaim among editors and reporters; a few weeks after his resignation he had a starring role at the convention of the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE). "I resigned because I was concerned about the damage to the whole of the paper," he said. "I was worried that in Knight Ridder a greater priority was being given to the business aspects of the enterprise rather than to fulfilling our public trust."
A standing ovation ensued. Richard Oppel, former ASNE president, said afterward, "History will show that was one of the most powerful speeches ever given at ASNE."
Indeed, Harris's courageous statement highlights the squeeze put on newspapers all over the country by their corporate owners. Even though newspaper profits--averaging 22 percent--are among the highest in any U.S. industry (thanks to virtual monopoly status in most cities), a dip in ad revenues and higher newsprint costs is an excuse for corporate executives to demand cuts and staff reductions. And that inflames the social passions of journalists in a way that few other stories do.
What's missing, meanwhile, is a widespread recognition that what's true for journalism is true for, say, health care, airlines, or makers of exploding automobile tires. Perhaps journalists, newly reminded of how the vagaries of capitalism can affect the quality of work and people's lives, will more rigorously apply that lesson to other industries they report on.
But What about His Legions of Supporters?
"A TV commentator and magazine editor has turned down an offer to be the Conservative Party's [New York City] mayoral nominee--a decision that could help Republican billionaire Michael Bloomberg's candidacy. After a month of considering, National Review editor Rich Lowry, 32, told party boss Michael Long he wasn't interested, Long said yesterday... . Lowry concluded that åit just didn't seem it would be worth the time and energy.'"--New York Daily News, April 17, 2001