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Internet ad sales top newspapers for the first time: Hurrah! Journalism saved!

May 2, 2011

Goodbye to all that.

Help me celebrate last week’s announcement that Internet ad sales topped newspapers for the first time in 2010. This means all those reporters and editors who lost their print jobs will now be hired by websites to satisfy the public demand for high-quality journalism.

What? That’s not what it means?

Sadly, no. What it really means is that the inexorable dominance of digital media, like some kind of Cyberzilla, will soon crush, smash, flatten and otherwise denature and destroy every square inch of human culture, which for the sake of extended metaphor let’s call downtown Tokyo.

Yes, yes, I confess that I am, ahem, a mature gentleman who grew up with newspapers. What’s more, I’m among those thousands of journalists who lost good jobs in print media in recent years. But my disdain for the Internet as a source of news is neither sentimental nor self-interested.

Indeed, the day, and I mean the very day, I traded full-time employment for a career in freelancing (or as I think of it, “sharecropping”), I abandoned a lifelong habit of starting my day with a newspaper. Who had the leisure to spend 15 minutes over the Miami Herald or the Sun-Sentinel? Egad, man! There are blogs to write, editors to pester, status to update…

No, my disdain for the Internet lies with its inefficiency. Paging through the newspaper, as I used to, I get a handmade product put together by dozens of professional journalists. In one sitting I catch up on local, national, international news, plus opinion and analysis, sports, business, lifestyle, movie reviews, TV listings.

Now  instead of trained professionals, I’m dependent on an algorithm designed to do two things: 1) bring me more of what I’ve already expressed an interest in; and 2) expose me completely naked to the tender attentions of advertisers. As a result, it takes so much effort to find the things that used to come daily, as if by magic, in my newspaper that I seldom bother.

Do you know how hard it is to find a reliable TV listing grid on the Internet? I used to turn to the back of Lifestyle and there it was. Same for baseball box scores. There they are, right in the sports section of the print paper. Try googling “baseball box scores Sun-Sentinel” and see what the search page turns up. Good luck.

Instead of a newspaper, now I have Yahoo news, MSN, Huffington Post, Newsmax, plus the various newspaper and magazine sites, and if I take the time to visit AND navigate them all, I can get something like the information 15 minutes with the newspaper used to provide.

The very announcement of the Internet’s advertizing triumph is a primo example of the inferior information you find on the World Wide Web: It’s wrong, dumbed-down and misleading.

How so? I’m glad you asked. Consider this report from venturebeat.com. If you look at the accompanying graph, you can readily see that it lumps all of the Internet — Craig’s List, nytimes.com, Gawker, YouTube, Google or your favorite porn site — while print media is broken out into “newspapers,” “directories,” “consumer magazines,” “trade magazines.”

That’s like staging a basketball contest between the Minnesota Timberwolves and LeBron James, and then bragging that your five beat his one. The question becomes: Hey, Internet, what took you so long?

I harbor no illusions. Newspapers (and books and magazines) are doomed, and soon, too. The gadgety speed and cool design and flashing lights of hand-held digital devices is addictive. Most consumers are more than willing to give up substance (and privacy, too, let’s not forget privacy) to get them.

Good quality journalism is a handmade product, produced by professional tradesmen. It’s not cheap. It takes a lot of talented people. The world is moving away from that kind of commitment to information. I get that. Enjoy your iPad. Really, I mean it. You’re paying so much for it, you better.

Meanwhile, humanity will soon forget how to perform the daily miracle of putting out a metropolitan newsapaper,  just as we’ve forgotten how to forge a razor-sharp edge by hitting two rocks together or how to build a Saturn V rocket that will take someone to the Moon.

Our grandchildren will think it a myth or a legend, because clearly it was beyond the realm of mere human capability.

2 Comments leave one →
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  2. April 28, 2013 8:20 pm

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