Unlike many of my contemporaries, I enjoy reading the newspaper. I’m not hardcore like some people. I don’t read the whole thing, front to back. I avoid the boring sh*t. My focus generally lends itself to the sports page and whatever else I have time for. Still, even that little bit of interaction with the printed word makes me a rare breed in this day and age.
Newspapers are failing. It’s no big secret. They’ve been in disrepair for the better part of the past decade. As the internet has become the world’s premier source for information, newspapers have taken a backseat in people’s everyday lives. Why read a paper when you can have news delivered instantly to your computer? It’s a fair question, and one that cannot be logically refuted.
At the same time that the newspaper industry has been falling apart, “new media” websites have sprouted up, giving information whores a whole new medium in which to indulge their fetish. In the most basic of senses, new media sites encompass internet blogs, fan pages, and even social networking sites. A status update on Facebook or a tweet on Twitter is information being printed for public consumption, even if it is abbreviated to the confines of 420 or 140 characters, respectively. This very site is the embodiment of new media. Fifteen years ago, this site, this blog, whatever you want to call it would have meant nothing to no one. My voice would not have been heard. Readers would not have cared. But that’s all changed. And the world is a much different place, as a result.
We’re all writers now. We’re all journalists. Even the 12-year-old kid with his own MySpace page is a media member. If he’s putting it out there and someone’s reading it, he’s a news source, regardless of age, talent, or ability.
To some people, this is absolutely terrifying. Allowing just anyone to spit out information is scary. It should be stopped. The only folks worthy of informing us are the credentialed members of the media.
To others, this is absolutely fantastic. It levels the playing field. It forces mainstream media to step up their game, to compete with the laymen, to win our affection. If some kid in his mom’s basement is pulling in more readers than your printed publication, then that probably means your printed publication isn’t worth a damn.
I, for one, can see both sides of the issue. I worked for The Seattle Times for two years. My dad has worked for The Seattle Times for over thirty years. The newspaper industry paid for my livelihood growing up, then allowed me to get a foot in the door when it came to my own journalistic endeavors. Watching the industry crumble is painful, to say the least. But at the same time, the leaders in the industry are doing very little to prevent their product from becoming obsolete. Which is a huge problem.
As it turns out, many folks in the newspaper industry are arrogant. I use this term loosely, and by no means would I extend it to my cohorts at the Times, or even the many friends I’ve made at other newspapers in the local vicinity. For the most part, the arrogance is relegated to the people at the top, the men and women who call the shots and maintain control over entire companies. Many of these individuals are out of touch with reality. They assume that new media is little more than a fad which will blow over. They believe that newspapers will rebound simply because they’ve always rebounded. They like to discuss the first amendment and tell stories about how newspapers helped Americans pull through during the Great Depression. Sadly, the collective ignorance of these people will be their ultimate undoing.
I read a document the other day, written by the owner of a media corporation, which included the following sentence:
“The internet is not going to save or replace a system of independent, high quality journalism. Not today, nor in the near future.”
If you work in the newspaper industry and know a thing or two about computers, I would hope you’d be shaking your head right now. Not only has the internet already displaced printed journalism, but it will continue to throw punches at the newspapers of our world simply by being fast, accessible, cheap, and always available. This statement is outright obtuse. I’m 25 years old. The person who wrote this is at least twice my age. I shouldn’t be telling him sh*t about life. And yet even I know that his logic is severely flawed.
This isn’t an indictment on newspapers. Far from it. I would love nothing more than to see the newspaper industry rebound. There are so many good people in this world who are being dragged down by the company they work for, simply because their boss’s boss is too egotistical to acknowledge the effervescence of the world wide web. That’s unfortunate. That’s wrong. It shouldn’t be happening.
So how do newspapers make a comeback, then?
For starters, newspapers need to embrace new media rather than scorn it. Up until now, journalism has been an exclusive secret society, of sorts, which existed above the rest of us common folk. Writers were demigods. Editors were overlords. The man with the pen and pad was simply better than us. We bestowed unto him that power. We revered his word on a piece of paper. We sought advice from him, sought information from him. We lived vicariously through his investigative reports. We crafted our lives around his opinion. We let his judgment ease our minds.
And then new media entered the picture.
New media proved to everyone that we could think for ourselves. That we, too, could write. That we had just as much pull as they did. That we had the power to do what they did. That we could draw readers like they did. That we could be revered like they were. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. We joined them. Then we beat them. At their own game, no less.
We became the leaders in generating news. We made the news. We created the news. Our daily lives became news. Our opinions inspired news. Our jokes, our beliefs, our rhythm, our cadence. It was all news. And it was being consumed by the masses, hungry for a new voice, craving originality, ready to break free from the stuffy confines of the ink, of the newsprint. We, as a society, rose up and struck down the newspaper industry. And they never saw it coming. Nearly two decades into the advent of the internet age, they still deny that the moment has even arrived. They’re ignorant. They’re arrogant. They truly believe that we’ll go away. That we’ll just…stop.
It’s not going to happen. No one is going to just quit writing, quit publishing. With each passing day, there are more of us undertaking our own blogs, our own websites. Some of us absolutely suck at what we do. Others have some serious talent. Some of us couldn’t write for a paper if our life depended on it. Others could easily be getting paid for their work as we speak. The spectrum of talent amongst bloggers and amateur journalists is vast. The range of topics being discussed is just as spacious. There is no rhyme or reason to new media. It isn’t structured by a conglomerate. It isn’t refined by a censorship. It isn’t accountable to an editor or a boss. New media is the epitome of a loose cannon, which should be all the more frightening to the mainstream. Loose cannons have a way of blowing sh*t up. And you can’t deny that this sh*t is blowing up all over the world right now.
I never realized that I wanted to write until I was in college. I knew I could write. I knew I had the ability. But the desire wasn’t there. It hadn’t clicked for me yet.
And then one day I just started writing. And it felt right. I enjoyed it. I wrote because I liked to write. I didn’t need anyone to tell me what to write about. I didn’t need an incentive. I didn’t ask for a paycheck. I didn’t look for the reward. The benefit was in the words.
Eventually, I got that job at the Times. I thought I might like to pursue a career in journalism. It seemed like a natural fit. But something changed when I started writing not for the love of writing, but for the job description, for the money. I didn’t enjoy it as much. I lost my passion. I saw others around me who felt the same way. Who bemoaned their life on the beat, who decried the quote-taking, the research, the reporting. And so I quit. I got a “real job.” And I started writing, once again, just for fun.
It became fun again. I enjoyed it. My voice came back. My passion returned. I felt differently when I wrote. More alive. More in tune with the world. It seems almost ridiculous, cheesy. But there’s undeniable truth behind these goofy emotions, silly as it sounds.
I’m sure there are others in this world of new media who share my love of the written word. We don’t write because we have to. We don’t demand money from our readers. We don’t seek out advertisements. We just write. It’s organic, it’s pure.
There’s something very genuine about doing what you love. The newspaper industry fails to realize that. They’re under the impression that our readers will disappear, that our money will run out, that we won’t be able to fund our lives because we don’t pull in advertising revenue or subscriptions. They don’t understand that for many of us this isn’t a business. It’s a hobby. Like collecting baseball cards or playing video games. It’s what we do in our spare time.
We write because we enjoy writing. If someone happens to read it, all the better. But at the same time, readers appreciate the soul in the sentences. When you put your heart into something, it shows. People can appreciate that. And so the readers will likely remain.
There will always be media. In what form that media exists remains to be seen. The newspaper industry can still survive. It’s a matter of acceptance, recognition, and understanding. And once that’s achieved, it’s about working together to reformat the field of journalism as a whole. The old way isn’t working. But luckily for newspapers, there is no discernable “new way” just yet. You, me, and all of us out there producing and consuming this new media are creating the new way. It’s up to newspapers to decide if they want to join us.