SADOW: Spiked Column Exemplifies Newspaper Meltdown

If you had any questions about why the mainstream media is dying and it steadily is losing influence politically in Louisiana and elsewhere, look no further than the rumpus over a column by Republican Sen. John Kennedy the largest newspaper chain in the state recently accepted and then rejected.

Last month, Kennedy, whose opinion pieces the media frequently have published spanning more than a decade, initially had one published in the Shreveport Times and farmed out to the several other Gannett newspapers in the state. The piece exhorted Congress to prohibit natal males from competing as and against natal females in female-only competitions, citing sustained evidence about the physiological advantages those born male would have regardless of attempts, if any, to change physical sex.

After a few days, without making any announcement or informing Kennedy, the piece was removed from the sites that had published it. Later still, an explanation to the broken web link was infused, saying the content had been removed because it didn’t “meet our editorial standards.”

Further inquiry revealed that Times editor Misty Castile claimed “process flaws” were involved in her outlet’s decision to publish the piece which ended up triggering involvement by “people above my head” initially questioning about evidential citation, even though the web version had well over a dozen solid citations linked. Gannett’s executive in charge of opinion pieces and standards went on to clarify the failure to “meet editorial standards” ironically came as a result of “inflammatory” language featuring the “loaded language” of “biological male” and “biological female,” and said Kennedy could have resubmitted using different terminology. This leaned on the Associated Press stylebook, which argues that “female” is emphasizing biology and reproductive capacity over “gender identity” and alleges such terms “are sometimes used by opponents of transgender rights to portray sex as more simplistic than scientists assert.”


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Pot, meet kettle. The language constraints cited are “loaded language” itself that privileges a particular ideological viewpoint not backed by science. And, it’s this substitution of moralizing in place of reporting just the news that hasn’t gone unnoticed by a public increasingly dubious of news organizations, especially newspapers.

Last year’s most recent polling showed the most people ever didn’t trust the mass media to report the news fully, fairly, and accurately, according to Gallup. Almost no Republicans do, and among partisans only older Democrats saw the media more trustworthy than not.

This drives the continuing deterioration in American newspaper consumption, with circulation in 2022 around 42 million, down a third from 1987, even as the population increased by a third. But half of this is digital subscriptions to the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, portraying a far more stunning loss for state-level outlets. This has reflected in newsroom employment at newspapers, which fell 57 percent from 2008 to 2020 to 31,000 total. Such trends have made a number of newspapers into “zombies” that publish little local news and much of what does make it into print being sourced from other locations and outside the area, which has become the norm of Louisiana’s Gannett papers (Gannett currently is part of a United Arab Emirates state-owned entity).


The Shreveport Times now has in its newsroom Castile – who came from out of the area in 2021 under Gannett’s previous owner with little traditional newsroom experience – two reporters (one for sports) and a photographer to cover a region of around 350,000 people without same-day home print delivery. On good days it might run two locally-sourced stories, with the rest of its very few news hole column-inches taken up by other providers (reduced to running content even from the far-left Louisiana Illuminator website.)

(Contrast this to some three decades ago, when I remember going to a party thrown by a former student of mine, sadly no longer with us, who had latched onto employment at the Times. There at it were no fewer than four Times reporters who had interviewed me in the previous couple of years.)

The Monroe News Star is even worse off. Serving a region of roughly 200,000 people, all it has is an editor, a reporter who appears to have a narrow beat, and two sports reporters. It may report on City Hall once a month. The curious can find more comprehensive local coverage in the independent, locally-owned Ouachita Citizen.

The saga behind Kennedy’s spiked column explains the grim results for Gannett outlets in Louisiana. Not just in choices what stories to print but also in the bowdlerized language that accompanies these is just too much for people who can see with their own eyes and hear with their own ears. But don’t cry over their vastly smaller reach and therefore influence, because it’s something they’ve done to themselves by placing an agenda ahead of acting as a trusted information source.



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