Looking Into the Economic Tunnel
Down and Out in the US of A
By Edward Shanahan
The end of the year usually prompts a summing up, but this year it entails more of a counting out.
The news at home this year could not have been grimmer, as personal, national and global economies went into free-fall and government remedies appear to be having little effect.
If there are bright spots here and abroad, I am having trouble seeing them, although it should be said at the outset that the election of a new US President offers a flicker of hope. Yet, Barack Obama’s challenges are so immense, the problems so daunting and the resources to correct them so limited that it will take a very long time for him and for us to see any light at tunnel’s end. It’s all tunnel at the moment.
Meanwhile, the value of every imaginable sort – homes, jobs, retirement savings, businesses, workplaces, communities, local, state and national governments - are so depressed that it feels as if the standard of living for those in the middle and those with little to keep them afloat has reverted to that period in the 1930s that some of us remember as our childhood.
Routinely, conversations these days with friends and acquaintances reveal that most of us or our families are in the same boat. Someone is out of work, family resources are being depleted, prospects for the short-term are poor. Hardly any optimism is evident, too many are struggling and the outlook is murky. People’s lives are mainly on hold.
So much of the wreckage of the economy and the welfare of the American family is the fault of a certain class of people – the best and the brightest - who recklessly gambled with our money and our livelihoods in pursuit of ever larger financial payoffs and wealth, which enriched them beyond even their wildest dreams. These are the Wall Street titans, the mortgage companies and the bankers. Warning: Banks are not your best friends, despite their warm and fuzzy marketing ads.
When it blew up in their collective faces, the rest of us, who were seduced by the trumpeted benefits of rampant capitalism, were left to pay the due bills. Suddenly, a government, supine for years, afraid or unwilling to play its proper role of protecting the public’s interests by regulating and prosecuting the malefactors and thieves, is now presenting itself as the answer. The question is, as one writer I read recently put it: “Who do we shoot?’
Unfortunately, we don’t know who to shoot because so many are culpable at so many levels of the business -government axis, we have neither the resources nor the time to fix blame and render punishment. We just have to slog through this quagmire, and hope to come at the other end in tact.
Quite aside from the economic melt-down and from a strictly personal standpoint, I feel at least as badly about the apocalyptic changes in one area of our economy and national life: The all but certain decline and fall of a admirable institution – the American newspaper as we have known it and relied on it for two centuries.
The newspaper is on the canvas and being counted out with alarming speed. My newspaper career has long since run its course, but two of our sons— one a reporter at the Boston Globe and another, a former newspaper reporter and magazine editor— thought it might be both fun and rewarding to follow in my footsteps, having witnessed newspapering at close quarters.
But, any prospect that they can enjoy a long-term career in print seems unlikely to impossible. Once merely a slow gravitation to the digital world of the Internet, the abandonment by the public of print media has become a full-scale rout. One of my former employers, the Detroit Free Press, which used to cover a city of 4 million people, has decided to deliver papers to homes only three days a week.
Newspapers large and small, east and west, have gone bankrupt, are being offered for sale with no takers, or shutting down their print editions completely and posting stories only on the Internet. Layoffs and staff reductions, including the closing of several bureaus covering the national government in Washington all raise questions not just about newspapers’ viability but about who will cover the news that we need as citizens.
My blog, downsreet.net, and others like it with no resources won’t get the job done, nor will larger solely on-line organizations, such as the Huffington Post, which offer mainly recycled ‘news’ and commentary. They won’t spend the money to recruit, employ , train, and unleash thousands of reporters at home and overseas, or find skilled editors to gather, edit, and distribute the news. It just won’t happen.
It could be argued persuasively, that the recent retrenchment by newspapers all across the country has in itself been a major factor preventing the public from realizing the extent of the growing financial crisis that was to erupt unannounced in the United States and swiftly cascade around the globe.
So when we sum up as we look ahead, in addition to individual families and communities, there are institutional casualties, even if we don’t realize it. I worry about how the new media world will perform the advocacy role of a free press, doggedly keeping the glare of scrutiny and publicity on Wall Street and Main Street, their government enablers, and others whose goal is to subvert the public interest.
It is not easy work, it requires reporting the facts, not just expressing opinions. As we dig deeper into the calamitous economic collapse and sort through the rubble, finding more victims, the country requires more and more information from many more sources in order to correct mistakes, find remedies and rebuild.
The newspaper as an essential part of the fabric of American life is wounded, if not totally crippled, and on the verge of becoming obsolete.
I’m sorry to say that’s really bad news for all of us.
downstreet.net©2001. All rights reserved.