Thursday, July 2, 2009

where is journalism going ?

I find myself habitually navigating to one website ( for local breaking news and weather forecasts. Other fountains that I drink deeply from are The New York Times, Slate and The Economist. With the latter three, the content is more like steak and requires sitting down and more leisurely-paced chewing than the former, which is a bit like a quick bite of pesto and olive tapenade on toasted sourdough over the kitchen counter. Like most of you, I don't pay for what I read, and if you're like me, you feel a pang of guilt when reading of the troubles in the newspaper industry. Journalists need to eat, and the good ones usually need to go to college in order to speak, read and write well. Food requires money, and who will pay these journalists for their sweat and labor at the sites I mention if we all contribute nary a red cent for the carefully prepared content that we consume ? This was the question I struggled with as what a journalist friend said turned over in my head, specifically her lament that newspapers were "in a death spiral", with every single major national paper having "major, devastating layoffs".

After this sobering assessment, one would think newspapers really were going the way of the Neanderthal. To the contrary, Jack Shafer, Slate's editor at large, believes we may be entering the Golden Age of journalism. He compares what's going on now with the newspaper industry in 1938, when Mark Sullivan, a journalist, then 64, published his memoirs lamenting the state of his trade amidst all the upheaval caused by a new technology then coming into its own, the radio:
But just when you're ready to dismiss Sullivan as another doom and gloomer, carping about modern-era disappointments and disruptions, he zigs from the normal zag to find opportunity in the decline of newspapers. He writes:

Not only did the market for writing shrink. New means of expression, of conveying thought and facts and description and narrative, came into the world. …

I felt as if I were like one of those old monks, the scriveners, who continued to copy by hand long after printing had been invented. To young writers looking forward the lesson is as plain, and even more important, than to old writers looking backward. Learn the art of writing, of course, but learn also the art of the motion picture, and of the radio.


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