Wisconsin State Journal still alive.

It’s never a good thing when you need to advertise that your business is still operating. But that’s what the Wisconsin State Journal did today in it’s big Sunday editorial.

Newspapers ‘play big role’ they say.

And they’re right .

They DO.

If newspapers (in particular the Wisconsin State Journal) didn’t exist, not a single word would’ve been published on this blog (or so it seems) in the last couple of months, because we take the local newspaper very seriously.

The newspaper may be shrinking… well… not “may be shrinking”… it is shrinking. The editorial slips over that fact. The WSJ continues to lay off staff. The share price of parent company Lee Enterprises, Inc. has fallen to penny stock levels. The WSJ has actually discontinued their own coverage of the GREEN BAY PACKERS, fer gawd’s sake, ceding it to Green Bay Press Gazette reporters.

It’s a rolling disaster — certainly for the business which is Madison Newspapers, and for all the people it employs — but also for all of Madison and the whole of southern Wisconsin. People crave news and information. Without any doubt at all, the traditional newspaper with it’s large staff of reporters and editors is where we look for news and information. Print is “the press” we talk about when we talk about “freedom of the press.”

It’s frankly impossible to imagine local radio or tv “news” knowing what to do without opening up the local newspaper. And it’s impossible to imagine democracy operating without honest vehicles of reporting. It’s a terrible, terrible problem. We have already lost valuable — in fact, irreplaceable — pieces of our news and information system. No organization seems immune. The New York Times is suffering cutbacks just as much as the Wisconsin State Journal. We mourn these cutbacks. We fear what it means.

It’s true that we have serious objections to our local newspaper’s editorial page. It’s true that we have called the editorial page a venue of “extreme worthlessness.” One of our editors has objected to the adjective “extreme”… but she rightly never quibbled with an assessment of “worthlessness.”

We will continue to critique the editorial page of the State Journal, not because we enjoy its failings, but because we don’t.

Do newspapers ‘Play a Big Role’? 

We’re sure they do.

Sometimes it’s a big socially dysfunctional role.

The same newspaper can play a big useful role (a vital role) on its news pages, and then botch it all up on its editorial page (see the Wall Street Journal).They can report with reasonable fairness on their news pages, and then become a seemingly clueless enabler in a long editorial page war against the interests of its own general readership.

But they can’t do it forever. It’s not sustainable. A business might shoot itself in the foot once, and recover, and survive. But it cannot shoot itself in the foot over and over and over again