Michael Moore on Newspapers

Newspapers—when will the bubble burst?

My colleagues wanted me to ask filmmaker Micheal Moore about his “good riddance” to American newspapers in a September press conference at the Toronto Film Festival. Moore told the gathering that elsewhere in the world newspapers are supported first by readers and then by advertising. He argued that in the U.S. greed for advertising and profit margin supersedes quality journalism and grass root writers like Joseph Mitchell (my favorite).

Newspaper staffs are cut, news holes shrink.

Many forget that Moore, 55, began his career in print in Flint (Mich.) as the founder of the Flint Voice, an alternative newspaper. In 1986 he moved to San Francisco for a brief period to become editor at Mother Jones magazine……..

…….”Its a tragedy that newspapers are folding,” Moore said last week during a conversation in a Michigan Avenue hotel. “I didn’t mean ‘good riddance’ in that way. Society has been dumbed down. Newspapers have contributed to that by endorsing a Republican for president in 14 of the last 17 elections. This is what you get: clowns that want to dismantle the department of education. Lower education funding. Bust the teacher’s union.

“Then you wonder why we have 40 million functional illterate adults. Policy is being used to make them stupid. It would be like GM lobbying to have driver’s ed removed from high school.”

This February will mark 25 years for me at the Chicago Sun-Times. I started my newspaper career in 1974 right out of high school at the Aurora Beacon-News in suburban Chicago. I remember seeing editors and publishers eye to eye–not always philosophically of course, but on a daily basis. We were in the game together.

We worked for a common good, even though the Beacon’s dress code forced me to wear a hideous clip-on tie. Or the fact that columnist-poet Charlie Ward regularly propped up a pocket mirror and shaved at his desk on Saturday morning as I came in to write up the police blotter.

“Newspapers slit their own throats,”Moore said. “Conrad Black. The Chandler family. You’ve destroyed something this democracy needs. We don’t have newspapers, we’re in trouble. Jason in his underwear blogging from Terre Haute isn’t going to tell me what’s going on in Afghanistan.”

I asked Moore if he read print reviews of his films.

“No reviews are important,” he answered. “I don’t read them. I used to read them. Not only would I get upset at the ones I didn’t like, but I started believing the ones that were very positive. Its best not to go one way or the other and just do your work. Critics are for the people anyway. They’re not for the filmmakers.”

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