Excuses, Excuses

Matt Welch dares to offend his ink-stained friends:

Blaming the customer is the second-to-last refuge of any crappy industry, business, or organization (the last refuge being asking for a handout on Capitol Hill). As my ex-L.A. Times colleague and current Reason magazine Contributing Editor Tim Cavanaugh has noted in our pages, the paper we both short-timed for was filled with people making jokes about whether we could just "fire our readers."

Over the recent holidays, an entire journalistic Festivus celebration of customer-blaming broke out over New Yorker finance columnist James Surowiecki's lament that, "The real problem for newspapers…isn't the Internet; it's us. We want access to everything, we want it now, and we want it for free." To extrapolate, if only us greedy human beings would realize that our very democracy was at stake, that we "are taking an active step in the formation of a country without a civic conscience," then we'd damned well volunteer to pay an unnecessary premium to keep our finest journalists in permanent six figures. Sounds precisely as convincing as the argument that enlightened voters will surely agree to pay extra taxes so that political campaigns can be financed through "clean" money.

At the risk of alienating what few old newspaper pals of mine still have jobs, the industry they (and I!) so cherish, which has suffered mind-blowing valuation losses and several dozen rounds of downsizing both in personnel and column inches, is still bloated after all these years, with costs that no publisher would dream of incurring if he was starting a newspaper from scratch in 2009.