Tuesday, March 17, 2009

On the Death of Dead Trees

(Photo Credit: Joshua Trujillo, Seattle Post-Intelligencer)

No time for a proper post, but we couldn't let today pass without acknowledging that another American newspaper, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, has bitten the dust, at least in terms of daily, print publication. It published its last print edition today and henceforth will be digital. (Read about it here.)

We noted here the other day that Moose feels entirely responsible for the decline and fall of the American newspaper industry, because she has largely abandoned her habit of reading the print edition of a paper every single morning of her life. It could be the problem is just a teeny bit bigger than that and that Moose is not the only one to blame, though she continues to feel awfully bad about it. (Note to Wa Po and NYT: We've still got those daily subscriptions and dutifully bring the papers in every morning. They spend the day out on the kitchen counter, silently rebuking the moms for their bad new reading habits, which involve a lot of pointing and clicking and exceedingly bad posture, until someone sheepishly places them in the recycling bags before bedtime.)

Anyway, a lot of folks have devoted considerable mental energy lately to pondering the implications of the death of print journalism in connection with a range of non-trivial issues including, you know, the survival of democracy. Tom Watson is an ink-stained wretch whose opinion on such things we respect enormously. He's got a sad, anxious meditation on What This All Means over at his blog. Go read it. You'll get less ambivalence and even a giddy sense that we might be stumbling toward an amazing information future in Clay Shirky's long, thoughtful "Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable," which everyone and her sister are linking to right now. With good reason. Go read it, but here's a tasty sample of the treat in store for you:

Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism. For a century, the imperatives to strengthen journalism and to strengthen newspapers have been so tightly wound as to be indistinguishable. That’s been a fine accident to have, but when that accident stops, as it is stopping before our eyes, we’re going to need lots of other ways to strengthen journalism instead.

When we shift our attention from ’save newspapers’ to ’save society’, the imperative changes from ‘preserve the current institutions’ to ‘do whatever works.’ And what works today isn’t the same as what used to work.

We don’t know who the Aldus Manutius of the current age is. It could be Craig Newmark, or Caterina Fake. It could be Martin Nisenholtz, or Emily Bell. It could be some 19 year old kid few of us have heard of, working on something we won’t recognize as vital until a decade hence. Any experiment, though, designed to provide new models for journalism is going to be an improvement over hiding from the real, especially in a year when, for many papers, the unthinkable future is already in the past.

For the next few decades, journalism will be made up of overlapping special cases. Many of these models will rely on amateurs as researchers and writers. Many of these models will rely on sponsorship or grants or endowments instead of revenues. Many of these models will rely on excitable 14 year olds distributing the results. Many of these models will fail. No one experiment is going to replace what we are now losing with the demise of news on paper, but over time, the collection of new experiments that do work might give us the journalism we need.

Like we said, go read the whole thing. It's late. We have to go put the unread newspapers into recycling and head to bed. Tomorrow: The revolution will be digitized -- and Roxie's World will be on the front lines! Cross my paws and hope to die, kids.


  1. Anonymous12:23 AM EDT

    Ah -- the revolution will be digitized. Amen, sweet Rox! Remember when we used to walk with our neighbor (you know, the one who greatly advanced a major newspaper in our 'hood going online) and she'd talk about this moment? Guess it took longer than she thought, but my my. I do read some of the print edition. The book reviews, e.g., when I find time to open them. Or the magazines, when I find time to open those.

    Yes, we need JOURNALISM, not the Parrot Brigades.

    Your Goose

  2. Anonymous11:05 AM EDT

    What Goose said about the Parrot Brigades, a phrase my human is SO stealing!

    We quit getting the WaPo when we realized we were paying a lot of money for lots of (generally off-base, unsupported and annoyingly predictable) opinion, and for a lot of (off-base, unsupported and annoyingly predictable) opinion presented as if it were actual reportage. Reportage--you know, someone trying to find out what's actually going on, not someone who's trying to find things they can write on deadline to support what they have already decided must be going on. Especially when it's likely that their plans about what they were going to write got them the assignment to begin with.

    As for the NYT, we weren't subscribers, but when the NYTwits hired Bill Kristol for the same money they could have used to pay several actual, y'know, reporters, and when several bloggers pointed out that Ms. Dowd has now become a parody of herself, we figured the best use for the Grey Lady was potty-training a puppy. And no way are we getting a puppy.

    Yes, the book reviews are worth reading, and the crossword puzzles are pretty good. But those are features, not news. It seems most efficient to get news online when we need it.

  3. This is the beginning of the end. Civilization cannot continue without newspapers. Get off the computer and let the ink sweat on your fingertips!


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