Thursday, February 26, 2009

I'm feeling more and more like... of these...

Yeah, that would be a dinosaur.

The latest reason -- that I'm willing to talk about, anyway -- was finding out that the Rocky Mountain News is shutting down on Friday after a 150-year run as one of Denver's daily newspapers.

I never worked for the paper locals have long called "the Rocky;" I haven't worked directly for any newspaper -- except as a delivery boy when I was a kid -- though my byline has appeared in a couple. In fact, I'm not certain I've ever seen a copy of this one. But for someone who grew up with newspapers, I'm saddened by the passing of any of them. And the Rocky is not this year's first paper to fail; nor will it be the last.

There are plenty of reasons for the demise of newspapers. Financial problems play a major role; a century ago, most were owned by a local publisher, often an individual. It didn't take a massive income to keep said individual happy (and, often, wealthy). Today, most are owned by conglomerates, home to highly paid executives who have no direct connection to the paper. As a result, profits are eaten up by a horde of hangers-on, fancy office buildings, and all the detritus of corporate life.

Many papers were purchased by these faceless entities in good economic times. Massive debt was created when loans were taken out to buy them. Profits might fall, but interest rates seldom do, except when a bankruptcy court steps in.

Another big contributor is, of course, the Internet. People wonder why they should buy a paper when the same content is available on the 'net. For "free," too. Advertisers, who once sunk their dollars into newspapers, were seduced with tales of millions of "click-throughs" and switched their allegiance to web-based publishers.

Finally, most major newspapers have become so agenda-driven and ideological that it's difficult to trust their news reporting. That's one reason I dropped my subscription to our local reactionary rag long ago.

Still, I hoped a day would come when newspapers once again assumed their proper place in society by doing what I was taught to do in journalism school: report facts in news stories, and leave opinion for the editorial pages.

Now it's unlikely to happen. From what I've seen, within a decade the number of major papers in this country will be reduced to a fraction of what it is today. Some large cities won't have even one, much less two or more.

I won't miss some of the casualties as they are; I will miss what they could -- and should -- have been.

As for the Internet: I feel bitter about that, because the money isn't there for most of those who actually create content. I've seen my work on various sites many times; I have never seen a dime as a result, and I'm not alone in that.

There will be a day of reckoning, by the way. Advertisers are beginning to learn that a fair percentage of website visits are more-or-less random, and the ads aren't bringing in expected returns in business.

But by the time advertisers and readers choose to take a second look at newspapers, the presses will have been silenced forever in too many areas, and the trained personnel who could put a paper on the racks will be flipping burgers.

At one time, I nourished a mild fantasy of spending my last writing years behind the editor's desk of some small-town newspaper, doing what I once trained to do while being a part of -- and in contact with -- a community.

Well, forget that.

I'm beginning to think I should avoid the rush and go get measured for one of those blue vests.

Bad enough that this is happening; there are so many people around who are so web-based that they don't give a damn about the demise of the real "press."

I hope the dinosaurs were wiped out without warning or prolonged agony. It ain't like that for writers, Jim.


Dorrie said...

I bet some of those papers are just looking for someone like YOU to run it! Then they wouldn't fold!

I just online papers for headlines, or news from back home. But the sites are lousy and details are hard to find. I still prefer a paper newspaper which I can read at my leisure... and I'm sure many feel the same.

Fin said...

Our local paper, Newsday, is a prime example of all that has gone wrong with the industry recently.

As they have a webpage called newsday dot com, most everyone who does not have a birdcage has wondered why they should spend money on the paper paper when much of the same content is freely available on their website.

Well, no more. They have decided to make their website a pay site. I predict it will be the final nail in their coffin. Given their recent slant (pro-illegals, anti white middle class) I hope so.

mag said...

Our local has it's free web site but you don't get all the details. No police reports, no upcoming events calendar. You have to subscribe to the paper paper to get those things online. Then you don't need them online because they deliver the paper paper to you. No wonder.

Ramsey said...

yeah, i agree with you! just give me the dam facts. Editorial opinions is the reason why we now have a communist president. he's doing his best now to gain control over the media.

John0 Juanderlust said...

In order for newspapers to be what they ought to be and to be read, there has to be an interested audience capable of reading and thinking. That sort of individual is becoming rare.

joan said...

I still start my day with newsprint on my hands even if I've already read the highlights online. Old habits die hard. I will hate to see them vanish.