Belo's Bad News

I remember being a young, naive reporter working for a small metro newspaper in suburban Los Angeles. Newspapers were the place to be then, for there was no greater beacon of truth, justice, and the American way than newspaper journalism. In the wake of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's exposé of the Watergate scandal in The Washington Post Co.'s (NYSE: WPO  ) namesake daily, it was to be newspapers that would hold the rest of society to a higher standard.

Yeah, right.

Yesterday, Belo Corp (NYSE: BLC  ) revealed that The Dallas Morning News had inflated its circulation figures. The announcement follows similar discoveries at Tribune's (NYSE: TRB  ) Newsday and Spanish-language paper Hoy, and Hollinger's (NYSE: HLR  ) Chicago Sun-Times, as well as earlier revelations of plagiarism at the New York Times Co.'s (NYSE: NYT  ) namesake paper. Is there any integrity left in the newspaper business?

For its part, Belo says TheDallas Morning News executive in charge of circulation has resigned. The discoveries were made after Belo Chief Executive Robert Decherd ordered a review of the circulation practices of all its papers in June. Belo says it doesn't expect to find problems at its other papers, which include The Providence Journal in Rhode Island and The Press-Enterprise in Riverside, Calif. Circulation practices at those dailies were under review as of early July, but Belo says neither uses the same method to calculate circulation as The Dallas Morning News.

Belo plans to adjust daily circulation figures for The Dallas Morning News by 1.5%, while Sunday's total should decline by 5%. A plan is under way to reimburse advertisers who were bilked by the scam.

Beacons of truth? Defenders of justice? I don't think so. I get no joy from sticking it to an industry that once put bread on my table. But, seriously, how ironic is it that days before the 30th anniversary of the resignation of President Richard Nixon -- officially Monday, August 9, 1974 -- under pressure created through solid, credible reporting, the newspaper business would sink to even lower lows? Terribly, I'm afraid.

What do you think of the state of journalism these days? Is it up to par? Are there still guardians of truth out there? Debate all this and more at the Current Events discussion board. Only at Fool.com.

Motley Fool contributor Tim Beyers left the sports reporting business because he just couldn't sit through Little League baseball games every day. Tim owns no shares in any companies mentioned, and you can view his Fool profile here.


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