Wednesday, December 17, 2008

RIP newsprint

Election detox update: Autumn mania has faded, but a small inner glow remains. Cabinet choices: so far so good. Can't wait for the inauguration. A couple of my coworkers are going so as to experience the history along with thousands of strangers in the cold.

I've been meaning to write about the ongoing demise of the newspaper business but there wasn't a recent news peg until yesterday's announcement that the two Detroit papers are cutting back to home delivery only three days a week (with only a pared-down newsstand print version on those days), since the web has for some time been Numero Uno. In weeks previous, there've been articles about the Tribune Co. filing for bankruptcy, professional web-only journalists successfully competing with traditional media in several cities, and apparently at least one paper outsourcing all its editorial functions to India for pennies. Wow.

I got into newspapers at what was, in retorpsect, the last gasp of the golden age of the industry, even though it hardly seemed that way at the time, given the paltry wages and obsolete technology -- much as I try to repress the early-'90s memories of the hard-drive-lacking 640K computers and Trash-80 laptops for filing those smokin' Zoning Board stories in 20-degree weather from the payphone down the street from Town Hall at 10:00 p.m. Where was I? Right, so... newspapers are dead because they cost way too much to print and deliver compared to web production. Getting your news on a computer is certainly more efficient, searchable and durable; the only thing lacking is those big pages with interesting layouts and photos. But devotees of LP album-cover and gate-sleeve art adjusted to the CD wihtout too much fuss, because the overall benefits far outweighed the losses. As for myself, I really enjoyed the process of making a newspaper -- the layout, the typesetting, the wax and Exacto knives, the boards, the smell and sound of the printing press -- and I like scanning thbig pages. But I don't bring the Globe on the subway because it's too damn hard to work the thing when yu're crammed between your fellow commuters. So I guess you can count me as someone who doesn't mind the loss of the printed newspaper per se; I worry much more about the loss of editorial competence that seems to accompany this change. The drive to get news on the web the second news happens, plus the grassroots we-are-all-publishing-equals philosophy of the blogger movement, has meant a real loss of quality in writing and editing. Not that most small newspapers had a lot to brag about in this area, but still. And I hope that we'll find economically viable ways to gather and publish local news (meaning: relatively low readership) well as national news outlets and blogs are managing to do. I think the working-class Brits have the most to lose by all this change. After all, how can you wrap up an order of fish 'n chips in a Kindle?

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