An Open letter To John Oliver

Mr. Oliver,

I catch Last Week Tonight as much as possible.  Your range of topics is fantastic.  I generally agree with your viewpoint, but not this past week.

Your piece on journalism in many ways is spot on.  Business paradigms are changing and businesses are shaking out.  There is going to be a transition from print to unknown platforms. 

To be fair, newspapers have been dying for decades.  There used to be four good sized daily papers in Philly as recently as the 1970s.  Since then two have completely disappeared and the other two have merged (The Inquirer and Daily News are under Philly.com). 

It is not just the internet’s fault, but the fact people have less time to read a paper.  We are working longer, harder hours and the time luxury of the funnies, or being involved in our local communities just is not there.

The media itself is the problem.  We are looking at a presidential election where the major parties have put up a Cheeto and a Cheater.  Where is the outrage from the media over an FBI too damn lazy to look out for our national security?  The FBI admits to finding eight top secret email threads on the private Clinton email server and offers no referral.

Wikileaks releases damaging documents day after day.  The media yawns.  Without the media to push the Justice Department, no one is ever held accountable for anything.

I really can’t rip the freeloader downloading content via the downstairs coffee shop’s wifi. It ticks me off we are paying for this stuff when we get home delivery, or plunk down a buck or so at a newspaper stand or honor box. But we ain’t getting anything close to the truth. We are paying for the news ‘product’ produced by our cable bills; and still no truth to be found. I pay for Sirius Radio and am close to cancelling because of the poor news content. 

Ya get what you pay for?  Nuh-uh, not even close.

There is also another way we are paying for this media “Product”; at least in Pennsylvania.  Laws here mandate the government post notices in local ‘newspapers of record’ when a zoning project comes up or when there is a school board meeting.  That is a great use of subsidizing the newspapers for the greater good. 

But, there are newspapers who abuse this practice, well the government helps out the abuse too; when it comes to Sheriff sales.  If you are a home owner in trouble and fall behind on your mortgage your property is subject to sheriff sale.  Rather than putting a small notice in the paper about the sale denoting the location of the property and the time of the sale, some local papers place the entire surveyor’s report in the paper.  It may run as long as a column of newsprint to describe in detail that no one can decipher a home owner’s at-risk property.

Where does the money for this come from?  The value of the house when it is sold at the sale.  So you, the former property owner, are on the hook for subsidizing the local paper.  An analysis a few years back revealed close to $200,000 the local paper received to post something that could be done for a small fraction of the cost.

One last point, during your report there was an edit from one of the print reporters whining about The Huffington Post.  Something about equilibrium from online outlets when someone would show up at a local town meeting. 

Have you heard of Patch.com?  It was a local network of online newspapers that did cover news at the granular level.  It was part of the AOL/Huffington Post media network.  I used to write for it.  I used to go to local meetings to cover for local Patches.

From my perspective as a grunt writer on the ground, there were management problems at higher levels of the organization that doomed the initial rollout of the enterprise.  But that local news framework still exists.

If activated properly, it could still be a major player.

Journalism is dead because the media wants it dead and for no other reason.  It is competition in a ‘capitalist’ system.  Information is monetized in the media and education and anywhere else a buck can be made or a palm greased.

Thanks for taking the time to read this.

Sincerely,

Joe Ferraro

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