Thursday, May 31, 2012

newspaper column about newspapers

Editor's note: Just take what I normally say every week about my column for the Times and insert it here. As always, feel free to add suggestions or helpful (or hateful) comments here or by finding me on Twitter.
Wherever we’re headed in media, let’s hope there will be some good people there

I am not nearly qualified to write an obituary for the print industry in this state, obviously. But it feels like someone should.

Last week, the Birmingham News, Huntsville Times and Press-Register (in Mobile) made a somewhat surprising announcement: they were shifting their company titles and switching to a three-day-per-week printed edition. The Times-Picayune, in New Orleans, made the same announcement earlier that day. All four publications exist in a daily format online (hey, just like us!).

Is it sad news? I’m not sure. It’s certainly sad to see jobs lost in any form – and really, no matter how nice a face we try to put on it, there’s no doubt people will lose jobs as part of all this, whether they’re design people or press operators or even newspaper carriers.

But the death of printed newspapers isn’t so much the death of news. News reporters continue to exist, whether they come in the form of talking heads on television, disembodied voices on radio (OK, so the radio guys generally just read the newspaper) or writers and bloggers who maintain a presence online.

In a way, the new wave of the news industry is the proverbial free marketplace of ideas – instead of 30-minute newscasts and daily newspaper cycles, the news now happens all the time on a hundred different channels. And, of course, online, where news can be reported, retracted, reported again, speculated upon, argued and then retracted again, in the space of a few minutes.

Out of that sea of information, somewhere, is the actual truth of a story. Though how one can reach it without being distracted by a vignette about Lauren Conrad’s wardrobe or the latest video game release or possibly a quick game of Words With Friends (or several quick games) is debatable.

The most important thing – whether the reporter works on the Web or the TV or the radio – remains accountability. The ink-stained wretches of this world – now stained with … computer ink? … I have no idea – do not drive into the eye of a storm or sit through a four-hour council meeting because they enjoy leering at misfortune or dysfunction. They are there to tell the story, as completely as they can, as many sides as there can be. It’s a job that pays very little, and for which, if they are fortunate, they might receive a certificate from someone one day saying they did a good job (but very little in the way of compensation).

I hope that reporter still exists 20 years from now. Daily publication or no.

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