A plus and a minus in the Post

Two stories about consequences of immigration reform hit and miss

August 11, 2007

by David Kopel


Grandmother: "There are two words you should never use. One is 'swell' the other is 'lousy.' "

Child: "OK Grandma, tell me the lousy word first."

This week, the illegal immigration reform laws enacted by the state legislature last summer were the subject of a pair of articles in The Denver Post.One was swell, and the other was lousy.

The swell one was Monday's piece by Mark Couch, examining the state laws requiring that employers take steps to avoid hiring illegal aliens. As Couch detailed, the Owens and Ritter administrations have a shared practice of, in effect, doing almost nothing to enforce the laws.

Couch dutifully reported the excuses offered by spokespersons for the two administrations. The article would have been even better if it had included some quotes from outsiders, assessing whether the reasons given for the bipartisan inaction were plausible, or were instead pretextual, perhaps because neither Owens nor Ritter wanted to upset the big businesses which enjoy the lower costs of illegal labor.

The Couch article led to immediate results, with Gov. Bill Ritter announcing that his administration would review its practices regarding enforcement of the illegal immigration labor laws.

The lousy article was Sunday's lead story by Jennifer Brown, Allison Sherry and Elizabeth Aguilera, looking at the state law that forbids government agencies - and private organizations that use government money - to provide most welfare services to illegal aliens. The article did a good job of detailing some anecdotal stories about people who claimed to be citizens, but who lacked documentation, and therefore could not receive welfare services.

Of the more than 80 sentences in the article, fewer than a half-dozen provided the point of view of defenders of the law. Conspicuously absent from the article was any effort to quantify the change in illegal alien use of state taxpayer-funded welfare services as a result of the law. Yet, perhaps unintentionally, the article contained one bit of data suggesting that the change may have been quite large.

The article stated that use of a federally funded food bank (not subject to the state law) had dropped by 17 percent, which the food bank's president attributed to a mistaken belief by illegal aliens that the state law requiring proof of legal residency was also applicable to the food bank.

If so, it is quite possible that the drop in illegal alien use of state-funded welfare services, to which the new law actually does apply, would be as great, or perhaps even greater.

"Bad news on the doorstep; I couldn't take one more step," sang Don McLean in American Pie,a song lamenting the passing of the culture that McLean had loved as a youth.

I feel the same way every weekend morning, when I pick up the Rocky Mountain News,the Postand the Boulder Daily Camera.

It was only a few years ago that the Rockypublished an immense Saturday edition, the Postan even larger Sunday edition, and the Sunday Camerawas also quite hefty. But now you're left with newspapers that aren't much bigger than the Friday papers used to be.

It's not a problem unique to Colorado; this week, The New York Timesannounced that it plans to shrink its "news hole" by about 5 percent next year.

All over America, newspapers are reeling from the loss of once-stable sources of advertising revenue - including classified ads, many of which have migrated to Internet sites such as Craig's List. And circulation continues to decay year after year.

There is a tendency in some quarters to gloat that the declining circulation is the newspaper world's punishment for left-wing bias. But the biggest cause of circulation decline may actually be the "do not call" laws about telephone solicitations, which have destroyed what was once a major source of new subscriptions.

Moreover, the bias theory is inconsistent with the data that the greatest loss of newspaper subscribers has been among younger readers - a group which is, generally, to the left of the rest of the American body politic, and which would therefore tend to be the least bothered by the media's (alleged) left-wing tendencies. Far fewer people in their 20s are newspaper subscribers than in previous generations.

Many 20-somethings do read newspapers on the Internet, but Internet readers generate much less per capita advertising revenue than do print readers.

Although the Denver dailies are still bigger and better than most newspapers in comparable cities, it's sad to consider that they may never be as big as they used to be.

In the long run, we may be moving to a more European model, in which quality newspapers are smaller and much more expensive, and aim only for particular demographics, rather than appealing to the public as a whole.  

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