An ominous sign at USA Today

USA Today, the country’s second largest newspaper in terms of circulation, seems headed into uncharted and scary waters.  It announced yesterday that it would reorganize.  The paper plans to chop 130 jobs and refocus from print journalism to its digital version.  That in itself is no big deal.  A paper with losing circulation has to do something.

But this is the scary part. 

USA today, as part of its redo, will bring in “a new way of doing business that aligns sales efforts with the content we produce,” according to an article in the New York Times. 

In other words the longtime rivals within a newspaper, advertising and journalism, will apparently become a lot more friendly.  And that is not good for readers.  And that is not good for America.

The bane of good journalism has always been its advertising.   The journalist’s goal of producing meaningful, unbiased news stories is often met by an irate advertiser who threatens to pull his ads.  The bigger and more important the advertiser, the more sensitive the publisher becomes to the complaint.  If substantial, the publisher will make his displeasure with the story known.  It will trickle down as hear-say to editors and eventually to reporters.  In most cases, fearful reporters will censor themselves without an official edict from above.  They do not want to either lose their jobs or be handed a less desirable assignment.

It will be interesting to see how USA Today handles this difficult balancing act, or “conflict of interest concerns,” as the Times story called it.

All this divided country needs right now is to have advertisers of Big Business weighing in even more on the kind of news we read.  More propaganda, more pap.  Democracy can not thrive in such a suffocating environment.  Hopefully, USA Today will maintain a stout firewall between ad-selling and news content.

Whatever it means, it’s coming Arizona’s way.  The parent company of USA Today, the Gannett Corporation, also owns the Arizona Republic, the largest newspaper in the state.  Gannett executives have scheduled a mandatory meeting with Republic staffers on September 9 at the downtown Convention Center.  Staffers from out-lying bureaus will be bused in.  The meeting, it is assumed, will discuss this plan of blending sales and news content.  Stay tuned.  Most assuredly, though, it will be bad news for good journalism whatever it is.


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