For a group whose role it is to tell people what’s really going on, journalists are doing an appalling job in explaining why newspapers are in so much trouble.

If you followed much of the media’s explanation for why newspapers are failing, you would conclude that it’s because fewer people are buying newspapers.

But that is not the fundamental problem for newspapers. The problem is that advertisers — not readers — are deserting newspapers. And it is advertisers, not readers, who have always paid the expensive cost of newspaper journalism.

The elusive truth about the demise of newspapers is contained in a fascinating (and very long) essay by US media critic Bill Wyman (published online of course). In it he reveals the essential truth about newspapers that journalists find so difficult either to comprehend or explain:

The problem of the daily press in the US is exclusively this: the collapse of its business model. That model used to be, plainly put, making money — a lot of money, oceans of money — delivering advertising on newsprint into peoples’ homes. Subscribers didn’t pay for news. Advertisers did.

Why are journalists so bad at understanding their own demise? Wyman’s explanation is both fascinating and plausible:

Journalists are pretty good at working the scene of a disaster. They’ll tell you what happened, who did it, and why.

But when it comes to the disaster engulfing their own profession, their analysis is less rigorous. An uncharacteristic haze characterises a lot of the reporting and commentary on the current crisis of the industry.

It could have been brought on by delicacy, perhaps romanticism. And since it is not just any crisis, but a definitive one — one that seems to mean an end to the physical papers’ role in American life as we have come to know it — perhaps there’s a little bit of shell-shock in the mix as well.

As an investigative journalist somewhere discovers every day of the week, the real story is buried inside the superficial story. In the case of the collapse of newspapers, it’s about time the real story was told.