Last week I was in two hotels in Italy. Every morning, the lobby had the usual newspapers for guests. I don’t mean a stack of USA Today; I mean five newspapers, all with national circulation (and not even including the Corriere, darn it); maybe we can not count Berlusconi’s Il Giornale. I don’t mean five tabloid-sized placemats such as all our newspapers have shrunk to, I mean five newspapers of about fifty pages each, perhaps a third ads, the size of what we used to think a newspaper was, like the NYT when it was eight columns wide and needed special folding skills to read standing up in the subway. If I take out the stack of ad inserts from a Sunday Chronicle, it’s about the size of one of these dailies.
Granted, the Italians keep electing Berlusconi, so news is no guarantee of political maturity or judgment. But not having it is a guarantee of Big Trouble, and we’re certainly having less and less, in print and otherwise. Here’s an example of trouble:
Half of California voters want the state’s $20 billion budget deficit solved entirely or mostly with spending cuts not tax increases, even after lawmakers deeply cut state services to solve nearly $60 billion in deficits last year, according to a Field Poll to be released today.
Mark DiCamillo, director of the poll, said the survey results show California voters perhaps have a lack of understanding about the state’s budget and unrealistic expectations about solving the deficit.
“If it were up to voters, they would cut the budget and what they want to cut is waste, fraud and abuse,” DiCamillo said, adding that it “may be a pipe dream” to think those types of cuts could add up to $20 billion.
May be a pipe dream? Perhaps have a lack of understanding? This degree of total cluelessness about an enormous unfolding catastrophe has many authors – indeed, that his citizens are in this state of ignorance at the end of his term is probably the most complete and damning condemnation of Arnold Schwarzenegger – but the wasting away of news provision, and the habit of consuming it, are surely high on the list.
European newspapers have a different business model from ours (and Italian TV is more completely in Berlusconi’s toxic grasp than print media), and getting more different. I fear that Sarkozy’s latest idea is pushing a string, but at least the national government understands how important this problem is. I am near despair about the prospects for California’s escape from its death spiral, for many reasons, but the Field Poll coupled with the continued shrinkage of American news content through all channels is definitely the cherry on top of my bitterfruit sundae today.