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Bruce Bartlett
Bruce Bartlett
3 Jul 2007
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Changing World of Commentary

Comment

About 12 years ago, I got a call from Tom Bray, then editorial page editor of the Detroit News. I had known him since the early 1980s, when he was an editorial page editor of The Wall Street Journal, where I had written many articles. Tom asked me if I would be interested in writing a column for the News, and I agreed. Subsequently, I offered my column to The Washington Times, and eventually it was picked up by Creators Syndicate for national distribution.

This is the last of those columns. The world has changed a lot since 1995, and I've decided that there are better ways for me to express myself. The Internet, in particular, has enormously changed the ability to get a message out — one is no longer dependent on the traditional media, such as newspapers, for that purpose. Today, anyone with a computer and a modem can start a blog and, for all intents and purposes, be a columnist.

In the not-too-distant past, this was impossible. If you didn't write for a newspaper, it was very hard to get out commentary on topical subjects in a timely manner. But if you were any good, it wasn't too difficult to make a pretty nice living as a columnist because there were many newspapers and competition raised the value of those columnists that readers would follow from one paper to another.

In those days, most major cities had several papers — at least one in the morning and another in the afternoon. Since editorial policies were one way that papers competed, if one was liberal, the other, usually the afternoon paper, tended to be conservative.

But as work patterns and lifestyles changed, most cities became one-newspaper towns. The morning paper usually survived, while the afternoon newspaper died, generally eliminating the conservative voice. Even when the morning paper was the conservative one, it generally became liberal once it had a monopoly.

For a few years, once the competition was eliminated, newspapers were cash machines making enormous profits. But investors came to demand such profits year after year. As competition from talk radio and the Internet undercut their position, newspapers responded by sharply slashing costs in order to maintain high profit margins.

One way they cut back is by reducing budgets for columnists and becoming dependent on those that came at no additional cost from the New York Times and Washington Post news services.

Now it seems as if every paper is running the same few columnists — like David Broder from the Post and Tom Friedman from the Times. Their main attraction is that they mirror the conventional wisdom and seldom upset anyone with controversial opinions about anything.

Those who wanted more biting opinion gravitated to the Internet, where there are vast numbers of people offering commentary along every single point on the political spectrum. It became very easy to find writers expressing exactly one's own personal opinion about everything. Bloggers also have the advantages of no space constraints, and an ability to post comments in real time and to offer links to supporting documents and sources. Now they even have audio and video.

As a result, the demand for traditional column writing has pretty much dried up, just as the demand for buggy whips collapsed when the automobile came along. I don't mourn the old system. I am a great fan of bloggers and learn far more from them than I do from the Broders and Friedmans of the world, who have largely become irrelevant to serious political discussion.

Furthermore, the basic medium through which columnists operate — newspapers — are dying a slow death. It's a rare week when some major paper doesn't announce new layoffs, buyouts or other severe cost-cutting measures, such as reducing the size of the paper to save on costly newsprint, as The New York Times will do next month. At some point, the bloodletting will end, but not before many more papers fold. Eventually, we will probably be left with a handful of national papers, with all the rest devoted exclusively to local news.

Broadcasters are under the same pressures, and I suspect that the traditional nightly network news program will eventually go the way of the dodo. Those who care about the news will get it from cable, the Internet or talk radio.

I think there will always be a market for quality commentary, however, and some day someone will figure out a better way to make money from it. In the meantime, I have decided to devote myself to writing books, where authors still have control over their output and can make better money. I will continue to pen the occasional column, but this is the last one I plan to write on a weekly basis. I offer thanks to all my readers and editors for their support.

To find out more about Bruce Bartlett, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

COPYRIGHT 2007 CREATORS SYNDICATE INC.



Comments

3 Comments | Post Comment
Mr. Bartlett,
It was revealing to hear your conservative take on the history of racial issues and political parties on the CSpan Book Review program with Clarance Page. You said that Trent Lott got in lots of trouble for telling Strom Thurmond that he (Lott) wished he (Thurmond) had won the Presidency. Remarkable that you seem to have "forgotten" that his trouble started with the "we wouldn't have all these problems we have now" sentiment ( I wonder why Mr. Page did not point out the obvious). What problems? Blacks voting in the South? The possibility, at least, of home ownership in previously all-white neighborhoods? Equal employment opportunity? Access to previously all-white schools? There certainly was much to cause anxiety in the souls of the defenders of Jim Crow (white conservatives). Anyone alive during the "Civil Rights" era was aware of the prevailing white conservative perspective that "the n....s were taking over" and Thurmond was their great white hope. The "hope" later became stalwarts of the anti-civil rights reaction (Goldwater, Helms, Duke, Reagan, Gingrich, etc.)
About the Democrats and civil rights: I am old enough to remember President Johnson's comment at the time of signing civil rights legislation that "this will cost us the South for a generation". Two generations, now and counting . . . .The resultant flood of millions of white "social conservatives" (as the segregationists and white supremacists called themselves) out of the Democratic Party to the beckoning arms of the "Southern Strategized" Republican Party changed the Electoral map. Our racial problems, after all, had not to do with "Democratic vs. Republican", but liberal vs. conservative. As a Democrat who cheerfully watched the "unseating" of the Mississippi delegation at the 1972 Convention, I watched the Party do the most noble thing about its ignoble past. What a great opportunity for the GOP. too. to tell those bigots it was a new era; there was no room at their inn, either. But the GOP, which had been a somewhat progressive party on civil rights, took up the rallying cries of their new members. If you didn't want blacks in your restaurants, neighborhoods, workplaces,colleges, voting booths, etc. (the "problems" Trent was talking about), well, there was a party for you! Of course, the party didn't say it outright: Why, it was only against "reverse discrimination". It was for (Thurmond's) "States Rights". "Neighborhood schools". "Property rights". Nod, nod. Wink, wink.
White conservative politicians, authors, etc., have since tried to convince each other, and themselves, of theae preposterous fantasies. Overwhelming majorities of black Americans, as well as all conscientious Americans, are not misled by these transparent and self-serving efforts, though I am sure they do rally your "base".
Let me tell you about our liberal nightmare: That one day the GOP will confron and make a full confession about its Southern Strategy "deal" with the unreconstructed forces of racial injustice and sincerely repudiate it. So far, I have heard one (1) conservative do that: Jack Kemp. Now if you can get the other tens of millions to go along.....When that day comes, it will change the electoral map again (but then, where will your bigots go?)
Yours for a better America,
Rick Ravenscroft
Yours for a better America
Comment: #1
Posted by: Rick Ravenscroft
Sun May 11, 2008 10:43 AM
Re: Rick Ravenscroft; Sir,...All these so called conservatives living in the past isn't half the problem of them wanting to take us to that happy place with them. It was not happy. It  was  never nice. It was ugly on an ape. It was brutal. The one reason everyone has worked hard, even giving their lives, working themselves into an early grave -was the thought that the future could not possibly be worse than the past; and now, look! The past has some how gotten ahead of us, and has become our future. It is the past all over again. When you thought the great depression was gone for good; Oh Oh! It's back. Stock market crash? Oh Noooooo! Here it comes again. I think the conservatives/reactionaries need a big dose of the past...The puritan revolution,  the beheading of Charles Stewart, The American revolution, the French revolution, the Russian revolution. What lessons do you take? I take the lesson that national bankruptcy leads to revolution. You might take a different lesson completely; that the past was not so great after all, and that the future could be better still; if we learn to live with people, and share the wealth, and the liberty, the justice and the hope. So... See you in the disappointment line...with all the failed conservatives..Thanks...Sweeney 
Comment: #2
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Fri Oct 10, 2008 7:39 PM
Re: James A, Sweeney

All the revolutions went so well. You forgot the Third Riech. Another success of the socialist revolutions
Comment: #3
Posted by: SCOTT
Mon May 21, 2012 6:22 PM
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