Tuesday, February 24, 2009

How will history be recorded when newspapers are gone?

Everyday it seems, another expert is telling us that the print newspaper industry is going the way of the dinosaur. The telling signs and evidence of a death spiral are there: newspaper circulation is down, the younger generation is not reading them, and most importantly, regular and classified advertising is migrating to other (free) places, like craigslist and vehix. We've seen the evidence locally, with the Rocky Mountain News being put up for sale, and the Denver Post letting go of their senior editors.

Yes, there are some solutions being proposed. As the news makes its imminent transition from paper to dots on a screen, Walter Isaacson, in the Time magazine a few weeks ago, suggests that we need a micro-payment system (a few pennies per article) to keep an online journalism ecosystem alive, with editors, columnists, photographers, layout artists, and reporters. He admits, though, that the last few rounds of micro-payment schemes have failed.

I've read it's the bigger newspapers that are in the real trouble. Supposedly small to medium size newspapers like our Times-Call are in better shape, perhaps because they are reporting on hometown stories that won't be covered anywhere else. But, the Times-Call did layoff their weekly humor reporter, Jade Cody, last week. (Regardless of whether you thought he was funny or not, don't we need our humor columnists even more during down times?)

Newspapers also have a wonderful side-effect, which I think is being lost in all of the obituary talk about newspapers. In addition to giving us the news of the day,
Newspapers serve as a stable, one-stop shop archival record of our history
Here in Longmont, one can go back to the newspapers on microfiche from the 1880's, and read the happenings for any given week, including local news, politics, weather, recreation, and human interest stories. This includes being able to see the advertisements and classifieds, which provide a valuable view to how people were living, and what they were buying. For a such a brittle media as paper, those historic words and pictures have survived a long time.

Do you trust that the online equivalent of today's newspapers will give us the same historical content and access, 120 years from now? Will the content be scattered across many sites, in different formats and retrieval methods? Will it be possible to round up the complete Longmont news landscape for a given day? What about the archival of the on line advertisements, which I mentioned are an important part of our history? Do we just assume that Google will be taking care of this for us?

Finally, what would you advise a high schooler or college student who is considering pursuing a future in journalism?


Anonymous said...

Although I write for an online newspaper, I wholeheartedly agree with you. I also think the option of both should be available, for quick online access with the online edition and with the print edition for archive purposes. I have saved many a memorable print copy.

With online writing, there are times that I go back and find that on-line links I posted to my articles for reference are broken and no longer available.

While I fear the loss of the print newspaper, I also fear the loss of the written letter. I cherish written letters that relatives who are no longer here have written me in THEIR OWN handwriting... something you can't get in an online email, let alone have remembered to print out and save a copy of it.

Along with the change in how we get and receive information, we also are not printing as many photographs as we used to and instead are leaving them in our online folders for later printing (and remembering to back those files up!)

Finally, I too will miss the humor found in Jade Cody. He made me laugh a lot each time I read his articles...that was a big mistake in his leaving!

Thanks for this post :)

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...


It just came across my desk that the Rocky is printing it's final edition tomorrow. What a shame.

lalapapawawa said...

Your observation sadly feels like a wistful remembrance of a bygone era.
I read about closing of the RMN today too. "The paper will close just two months short of its 150th anniversary." I got that in the online edition of the Times-Call. A bit ironic, I suppose. I love reading the T-C for its local news, but I read it online. I can't help it, I'm in Georgia.
I entered CU for a degree in Journalism, the print flavor, so I look at the current landscape and wonder where I'd be now, had I graduated with a journalism degree. But I also wonder, same as you, where all those memories will be stored.
I'll tell you what I think we lose when our thoughts go from print to digital. Here's an entry from an obit in an ancient family album I have:
William Fitzpatrick, one of the oldest settlers and pioneers of Coal Creak, departed this life Saturday, November 4th, after four years of patient suffering and resignation. He was born in Co. Kilkenny, Ireland, May 1, 1825 and was 86 years, 7 months and 3 days old.
Who writes like this anymore? Who takes the time, when every random thought about what you had for breakfast or who's wearing what can be blogged, tweeted or myspaced? Anyone can do it. But should they?
How will anyone know what's good writing anymore? I think it's sad.
And I agree with the Longmont Examiner too about the letters -- a few years ago I gave my mom a blank journal and asked her to write down all our family recipes. She still works on it, and one day I'm going to inherit it. I can't wait.

In a Van Down By the St. Vrain River said...

I still think there will be a place for journalists in our future. We still need those columnists, investigative reporters, and news reporting from our school board meetings and county fairs. But it may take a while for the market to sort out about how we compensate them. Another advantage to being a journalism major, in my opinion: I think if you can write, you can do anything.