Newspaper ashes to ashes, dust to dustup

Alan Mutter and I duke it out (well, not really) in an LA Times Dustup over the state and fate of newspapers for the next three days. Alan and I agree about a lot – except the wisdom and reality of charging for paper content. So I’m not sure we’ll be be kicking up a whole lot of dust. Here’s the first installment. The question: Are newspapers dying, or is it just a class of newspapers that isn’t sustainable?

The start of my answer:

Frankly, dear readers, I don’t give a damn whether papers survive. I care whether journalism advances and whether communities can get the information they need, which includes reporting. That is why I teach the craft. That is also why I’ve argued for years that newspapers should have planned for the date when they would turn off their presses so they would reinvent themselves. They didn’t.

I now realize, in my mind’s eye, that I had hoped — and worked, unsuccessfully — for an orderly transition from the old to the new: a Jan. 20 for newspapers when the print president would hand over control to the digital president. I now see that there will be no such smooth shift because, understandably, it’s hard to disrupt and destroy yourself. There will be destruction, voids and vacuums. Good people — not just reporters and editors but pressmen and drivers and classified sales people — will lose their jobs. In too many towns, news will fall silent.

But news will rise from those ashes. I am confident in that because I believe there is a market demand for quality news and information, and where there is a market, someone will meet the demand. . . .

  • Hmmm, while I am reluctant to WANT to agree, I can fully see where your theory stems from. The digital age is doing away with the analog, and that, I think, is the reason for my reluctance.

    I think there will always be some kind of romance aspect to receiving your newspaper on your doorstep in the morning, flipping through the pages over a nice warm brew, and dropping your jaw at the latest Corporate scandal. Am I caught in the grips of nostalgia? Perhaps. Yet, something tells me that isn’t quite true. Sure, one day I might be able to have my newspaper digitally transferred to a News Reception Device, and why not? It seems more and more technologically feasible with each passing day… Wait… the iPhone is already here, so it already is technologically feasible, but despite all of that, does staring into a digital screen seem as appealing to you as the alternative?

    To think of that question in terms of pure objective efficiency, I would surely say yes. There is no ability for call and response between the parent (government) and the child (the people) in an analog world. Yet, humans are inextricably bound to their emotions, and romance with their past is something that is almost as strong as Hercules himself. We’re tied to our culture; newspapers, books, journals etc. are all huge aspects of what our culture has created. Perhaps this is what happened in the Dark Ages as well, a demolition of the old, to allow for the new to be openly embraced. The difference of then to now is… well, we have most of the knowledge we had in the books digitized and indexed by monsieur Google so there is no element of “what the hell just happened?”

    So I guess I’m just not sure what to think on this issue, but it does merit paying attention to. My only question lies at… With everything becoming open and less and less based on scarcity and more on abundance and provision…. what does that say for the economic playground that has built itself on the world’s current framework?

  • Don

    Dear Tyrone,

    Reversing the roles in your paradigm reveals the true nature of the relationship between the responsible parent (taxpayers) and the impulsive petulant child (government).

    Dear Jeff,

    Your allusion to the Phoenix reminds me of a John Gardner quote.

    Values always decay over time. Societies that keep their values alive do so not by escaping the process of decay, but by the powerful processes of regeneration.

  • I couldn’t agree more with this statement: “I care whether journalism advances and whether communities can get the information they need, which includes reporting.”

    As sad as I am to see newspapers dying (I have a journalist background), I have to admit that I do not use the newspaper. When I want news, I hop on my webtop and check out my favorite ONLINE sources. It’s more convenient, affordable and timely.

  • MJK

    I’ve been reading about the demise of our industry for… well, ever since I became a cub reporter in 1968.

    The New Journalists then were questioning the very existence of the status quo cash cows of newspaperdom while many of us hankered for a cool job on the LA Free Press or Ramparts. There was even murmurings of how new technology would destroy the sanctity of the back shop and even hard-bitten scribes couldn’t imagine working in a place without the smell of hot lead or the bald-headed guy working with his handstick at the California Job Case.

    Ah yes, me lads, things were going to hell in a handbasket.

    Now, 40 years on, my lifelong addiction to the reading the printed word is getting serious. I haven’t bought a printed newspaper for years, almost a decade. Yet every day I relish reading my favourite newspaper in the world, The Guardian, along with NYT, the Globe&Mail and all the local papers I can handle. On weekends, when my personal news hole starts to run dry, I breeze through the New Yorker and other good mags. (I’ve been reading Popular Mechanics since the early ’50s and have never enjoyed it more.)

    Of course, I regularly visit Crooks and Liars, the Daily Beast, Drudge and anything else that catches my eye when I’m not visiting Wikipedia for sustenance.

    So, it’s hard to get misty-eyed at the death of the Rocky Mountain News, the cutbacks at McClatchy or the recent near-death experience in Seattle. Having tears in my eyes would seriously hamper my reading!

    When I moved to Britain 20 years or so ago, I recall fellow journos being aghast that a reporter would deign to carry a camera on the job, like most small-town North American reporters had being doing probably since the pinhole. At the same time, they were quite in awe of scribes from distant shores who had actually operated a computer, this being pre-Murdoch days in Blighty. But just a few years later, they were carrying cameras an in-putting copy.

    The point of all this is that I fully realize that I, and millions like me, are to blame for the rapid demise of ink-on-paper journalism, but I don’t care. All I care about is content and I’ve got content coming outta my ears.

    Things change and so do times. A couple decades from now, old farts like me will be able to amaze little ones with tales of the Goss press and the dirty fingers acquired through the quest for knowledge of current events. And those little ones will laugh and laugh at the incredible carbon footprint we left. And giggle delightedly at an old man who once made his living with an Remington.

  • now days no body really care to read news paper as they do not have much time in there hand.but for me paper still remains the main medium for getting early morning news

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