No news is bad news for America

Albuquerque Tribune, Baltimore Examiner, Cincinnati Post, Claremont [New Hampshire] Eagle, Halifax Daily News, Kentucky Post, King County Journal, Rocky Mountain News, San Juan Star, South Idaho Press, Tucson Citizen, Union City Register-Tribune. What do these twelve newspapers have in common? They have all closed their doors since March, 2007, the Claremont Eagle after 175 years of continuous operation. Others, like the Ann Arbor News and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer have discontinued their print editions but continue to publish on-line.

The demise of the daily newspaper has been a source of great anguish for me. My father was a newspaper writer and my son attended Northwestern's journalism school with the hope of becoming one. Wholly apart from my son's aspirations, moreover, the silencing of editorial voices and investigative journalists across the country disturbs me.

The course of American history might have been different were it not for Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein and their courageous editors at the Washington Post. In 2006, Post writers Susan Schmidt, James V. Grimaldi and R. Jeffrey Smith won a Pulitzer Prize for their indefatigable probe of Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff, exposing Congressional corruption and leading to reform. David Barstow of the New York Times won a Pulitzer in 2009 for his tenacious reporting about some retired generals, working as radio and television analysts, who had been co-opted by the Pentagon to make the case for the war in Iraq (and some of whom had undisclosed ties to companies that benefited from the policies they defended).

Where would Detroit be right now were it not for Jim Schaefer and M.L. Elrick and the talented team of Detroit Free Press reporters whose tenacious, investigative journalism led ultimately to perjury charges against former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and his chief of staff, Christine Beatty? The reporting of these two gentlemen and their colleagues helped to restore our community's respect for, and confidence in, those who govern us -- respect and confidence which is especially critical today given the unprecedented economic challenges being faced by our community, our region, our State and our nation. Schaefer and Elrick also received a Pulitzer Prize, as well as the DMBA's Liberty Bell Award, presented at this May's annual meeting.

There are countless other, less well-known examples. Unlike breaking news which is covered by other media, whether it's TV, blogs or Twitter, non-print media organizations -- with a few exceptions like Frontline or 60 Minutes -- are simply unwilling to invest the resources required by investigative journalism.

In a recent New York Times article, opponents of the death penalty indicated that their efforts to exonerate wrongly accused prisoners have been hobbled by the dwindling size of America's newsrooms, particularly the disappearance of investigative reporting at many regional papers. In the past, lawyers like Barry Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project in New York, often provided the broad outlines of cases to reporters, who then pursued witnesses and unearthed evidence. Even at newspapers which remain operational, the decline in newsroom resources has resulted in fewer protracted and expense-laden investigations being pursued by journalists, after a spate of exonerations several years ago based upon the work of reporters. The decline in resources has also hampered efforts by death-penalty opponents to search for irrefutable DNA evidence that an innocent person has been executed.

No news is bad news for America. Buy a paper. Place an ad. Patronize advertisers. America will be the better for it. My son will appreciate it.

John Runyan joined Sachs Waldman in 1979 and became a shareholder in 1984. Since 1997, he has served as the firm's Managing Director. Runyan is a graduate of the University of Michigan (AB, 1969) and the Wayne State University Law School (J.D. 1972, Cum Laude).

Published: Fri, Nov 20, 2009

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