Why blogging, websites and the Internet will never replace newspapers
Apologies if you thought this would be a triumphalist rant about how newspapers will survive…no…matter…what! Nah, they have no chance. The Internet, along with minor factors like the economy and the imbecilic self-interest driving decisions in the corporate office towers ensure the extinction of newspapers.
I mean, really, who reads newspapers anymore? I’m a journalist, a lifelong newspaper reader who spent all but three years of a three-decade career toiling for one local rag or another — and I don’t read a newspaper anymore. I don’t have time. As a freelancer, ghostwriter (and your humble blogger), I have to hop on the information highway first thing every morning. Huff-huff-huff!
Besides, thanks to the misguided decisions of corporate barons, there’s hardly anything in the paper to read anymore. Cutting costs in a futile quest to maintain historically high profits, they feast on the bones of a goose that will lay no more golden eggs, not even tiny ones.
Cutting costs trumps every other consideration, including good journalism, reader satisfaction, the sense of responsibility that
should come with First Amendment privilege. I remember, back in the mid-’80s, newspapers provided such a comprehensive product — with in-depth sports, lifestyle and entertainment coverage, as well as local and national news — that I feared they would put magazines out of business.
And I’m not only talking about The New York Times or the Chicago Tribune or the Washington Post. I’m talking about the three papers I read every day, the Miami Herald, the Sun-Sentinel and the Palm Beach Post. All were rich with information presented by smart, hardworking reporters who knew how to write, copy editors who knew how to catch an error and designers who knew how to lay out a page.
You can still find such people in the skeleton crews that man newsrooms today, but there aren’t enough of them and they aren’t given the resources that competent daily journalism requires.
So why would I bother with that thin, pallid little thing now known as a newspaper, with 80 or 90 percent of its copy originating in New York or Chicago? Recently, researching a book I’m ghostwriting, I came into posession of some yellowing pages from the Fort Lauderdale News & Sun-Sentinel, Sunday, September 17, 1961. It’s like a relic from the Time When Giants Walked the Earth. The thing is so broad, it would blanket the table at your nearby Starbucks.
Today’s newspapers, whittled down bit by bit over the past decade or so to save newsprint costs, are barely wider than a sheet of toilet paper. And need I add they are of little greater use?
Yet, newspapers are still, in their diminished condition, a superior news source to the Internet.
How can that be, you ask? With my computer, I have the world at my fingertips! I’m freed from the elitist gatekeepers telling me what’s important!
Actually, my friend, what you have at your fingertips is an illusion of the world. An illusion of freedom. True, newspapers are put together by editors trained to cull through a day’s news, deciding, based on news judgment cultivated over many years, what you should read. The intention is to provide the general reader with a broad sampling of what is going on in the world — whether you want it or not.
The Internet, by contrast, is designed to constrict your view of the world. The Internet, you know, has gatekeepers, too, only they are not human beings but the algorithms built into the search engine you use. Their purpose is to figure out what you already like (or think you like) and guide you to more of the same.
Maybe you prefer to be led by a disembodied entity contained in a mathematical formula, but I can think of nothing more
depersonalizing. I’d rather rely on an experienced editor — you know, a human being with actual expertise.
Read a newspaper, even a contemporary one, and you expose yourself to a wider and wider world. Depend on the Internet for your news, and the world grows ever more narrow, until it converges to a point: You.
This is the place in this kind of piece where I should mount a rousing call for all of us to throw off the chains of digital inertia, the bondage of self-referentialism and save not only journalism but ourselves by subscribing to the local paper!
Sorry, but I must disappoint, because such a rhetorical flourish would be futile.
Newspapers are doomed.
Journalism as I have known and loved it is as passe as the stone tablet, the vacuum tube, the transistor radio, the wrist watch.
The Internet is king. And I’m not even certain that’s a bad thing. I certainly could not be as productive as I am today if I still relied on hand researching at the library (however much I loved that kind of work). I long ago stopped resisting the verbing of “google,” and I can hardly remember what life was like before Saints Sergey and Larry bestowed this boon upon the Earth.
And I’m not young. I can only imagine what capacities young people, who are growing up with this technology, may develop. I get a hint, a vague outline, when I read the novels of Cory Doctorow, like Little Brother or For the Win, books that make me feel like a fish watching its brethern plod out of the water and up on to the beach toward the line of trees.
Please acknowledge with me, if only for a moment, that no matter what benefit digital technology may confer, things of great good will be lost, too.
I was reminded of this a few months ago when I woke up one Saturday and decided to give myself a holiday. I stopped to pick up a newspaper and drove to my favorite coffee shop.
Opening the newspaper — it happened to be the Miami Herald — I was astonished at all the news it contained: Important stuff of which I was utterly innocent. What?! Jackson Hospital is laying off 4,000 workers? Four thousand?!
How could I not know such a thing? I visit numerous web sites each day, places like Yahoo or MSN or Huffington Post or various newspaper websites, but I did not know about the troubles at the largest public hospital in my part of the state.
Similarly, does anyone know if the University of Miami has replaced Randy Shannon as football coach? I have only the faintest interest in football, which means that no matter how much I visit the Miami Herald or Sun-Sentinel websites, I’m not going to learn the name of the new coach unless I specifically go looking for it.
And yet if I actually sat down with the newspaper, I’d come across this information simply by paging through the paper, front to back.
Of such common information, outside the core realm of my interests or yours, is true community made.
Here’s the rub: The Internet will never replace newspapers. Supplant, yes. Replace, no.
So goodbye to all that.
May the new thing yet a-borning serve its generation half so well as the newspaper served mine.