Death of print journalism

I suppose I should comment on the oft-mentioned death of print journalism.  Yesterday, the Chicago Sun Times officially filed for bankruptcy.  Also, in today's news, "New York Times Co.’s biggest union will meet today to discuss a proposal from the company that would save the publisher as much as $4.5 million this year. The company is asking the Newspaper Guild of New York to accept a 5 percent pay cut or risk losing about 80 jobs..."

This past week, in Newsweek, the "My Turn" columnist d'jour writes about how her dad, an old newspaper man, predicted this decades ago.

Frankly, EVERYONE PREDICTED THIS.  When I was a kid in the '80s, it was said many times that some day, people would read newspapers on a little machine on the subway as they commuted work, and there would be no print newspapers.  This was no surprise at all to me, but we didn't know when.  "2000" or "2010" are good round numbers, but they were still arbitrary.  In one class of mine, we had a unit on "The Future," and one of the most commonly accepted views on The Future was that we'd have computerized handheld news.  That, and phones where you would see the person you were talking to.  Hmmm.  The phones exist but no one seems to have a need for them.  Who uses a phone to contact friends these days, anyway?

When I was about 12, I knew I liked writing.  I didn't know what I'd do as a career, though.  One day, waiting with my dad outside a medical office in Freehold Township, waiting for my mom to come out of a doctor's appointment, I saw a climbing thread of smoke in the distance.  An old farmhouse was burning down.  I realized then what I could do with my writing as a career:  Be a journalist.  I was very curious about what was going on, and wanted to find out and let other people know.  Writing for a newspaper would meld my love of the written word with my need to understand.

But I knew newspapers were supposed to be dying, sooner or later.  I hoped they'd hold out long enough for me to write for them.

What was funny was, people thought it would happen sooner.  In the '70s and '80s, they had this vision of "The Future" that was a little quicker than reality.  Look out your window - do you see us flying in spaceships like the Jetsons to get to work?  And when are we going to use the metric system, anyway?  My second grade teacher said we'd do it "next year."

Technology had other priorities.  E-mail.  Video games.  It took a while for iPhones and computers to be small enough and cheap enough to allow easy access to the news.  And some of us prefer not to fish around to see what interests us, but to just flip the pages and see what catches our eye.  Plus, it's easier on the eyes to read a newspaper when you're eating your breakfast.

But the money isn't there for a lot of papers.  Too much competition.  People realize that internet news has its downside, lower verification standards for one thing.  Would an internet blogger with a lot of priorities have uncovered Watergate?  Still, there are only so many advertising dollars in a recession.

The upshot is, we really need news organizations like the Times, but they are for-profit businesses.  They can't ask the state to subsidize them.  That would defeat their purpose.  So they have to find ways to stay in business.  Adapting to technological demands is the only way.  And some need to cut costs in order to stay viable.

But don't think that all of this wasn't predicted.  It was.  We all knew it.  We just thought print was worth saving, anyway.

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