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Michael Moore Says "Good Riddance" to Newspapers

Nov 15, 2009 | Updated May 25, 2011

For whatever reason, while at the Toronto International Film Festival Michael Moore departed briefly from promoting his new film, Capitalism: A Love Story, to hold forth on the demise of newspapers in the U.S. Elsewhere in the world, he said, newspapers are supported first by the readers, then by advertising. Not in the U.S. Here, he complained, newspapers have allowed their greed for advertising revenue to trump quality journalism dedicated to a core audience willing to pay. The result: inflated newspaper enterprises with unsustainable distribution and too many customers that don't care. And, then, the death spiral that starts with chopping-off reporting arms and legs, which leads to newspapers that are less relevant and valuable, etc, etc.

Says Michael Moore, "Anytime you say that the people who read your newspaper are secondary to the business community, you've lost."

"Good riddance", he says.

Well, minus the "Good riddance," I'd have to agree, at least with the proposition that newspapers lost track of their core customer. But don't stop with newspapers. It's true about most media, which have permitted the substitution of advertisers for consumers as the most important customer in their business model. It has led, in turn, to the steady erosion of relevancy in pursuit of lower common denominators in order to maximize reach.

There is something about all businesses that compels them to want to grow and that almost always, eventually, leads them away from core competencies and over the edge. That's for another time and place. Media-wise, while I'm not in love with his stuff as a film maker, Michael Moore cuts close to the truth: fundamentally, newspapers (I'd say, all media) have lost track of their most important customer: the audience.

Moore goes on about Republicans and the Department of Education and my eyes glaze over. We all must recognize that illiteracy is a serious problem, but newspapers aren't suffering because of an illiterate population. There are still plenty of people to buy, read and comprehend newspapers. Newspapers and media are suffering from a habitual desire to stuff themselves. They are, simply, overweight - another greedy, cultural phenomenon of America to which Mr. Moore could have drawn parallels, but did not.

Never mind. His point is well-taken. Please watch Mr. Moore's press conference and before his arguments fade please then point to TechCrunch.com to catch-up on the discussions that went on at the Tech Crunch 50 Conference (TC50) in San Francisco this week, specifically the panel called, "'Creating scarcity, value and brand protection as we face limitless ad inventory."

Nearly a continent away, panelist Ross Levinsohn of 5 to 1 channels the thoughts of Michael Moore and connects the dots: "In many ways", he is quoted as saying on the panel, "I think the Internet has killed itself to a degree because there was a notion that I will just add another page without maximizing the premium spots."

I think we've seen this movie.