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Confessions of a Dead Tribune
Posted on Aug 19, 2011
By Mark Heisler
We learned that people would rather watch than read in mid-20th century. In the new millennium, we started to learn that what young people read, they wanted on mobile devices that also made phone calls, texted, took pictures, streamed video, carried their music library, etc.
Eventually, we learned that most of all they wanted to do their own publishing and broadcasting, via the social networks, as opposed to waiting at the end of the information chain, consuming ours. If that mandated shorter stories, or 140-character tweets, that was no problem, unless you wanted to recognize nuance and report in depth, an increasingly endangered species known as “long-form journalism.”
If that meant journalism became a global tabloid war which valued attitude over information, with an audience that was dying to dog out superstars the way Jim Rome did, welcome to the new age!
Within newspapers, it’s assumed we’ll wind up as websites, whether or not some of us continue to print and it takes 10 years or five (or one recession).
I used to think of today’s interim as an ongoing effort to fit the building through a garden hose. The parts that didn’t fit—us—they would make fit, until the Times, which once had 1,400 editorial employees was down to today’s 500, on its way to 100, or 50.
If there’s finally no newspaper you can hold in your hands, and only a small percentage of the old revenue, there will also be no more newsprint, presses, trucks, gasoline to put in them and a physical plant, which account for all but a small percentage of the old cost.
The question is, what will be in tomorrow’s newspapers, paper or pixelated?
With all that newspapers have lost, they have something no other outlet has: the staff, institutional knowledge and experience to put things in perspective. Any bozo who can afford a rights fee can televise a game; we were the ones who can tell you what it all added up to, before, during and after games.
We, or they, still may in some happy future. At present, there’s less and less mention of “perspective” or “depth,” and more and more directives to tweet, blog, stream video and otherwise digitize more stuff, all day, every day, however mundane.
Unfortunately, in the absence of perspective, the blizzard of data hides meaning, or avoids it, rather than reveals it, leaving media outlets to shape into its most salable form—sensationalized—to be recirculated by the audience in more tweets, texts and blogs, many anonymous, injecting the equivalent of road rage in a mean-spirited exercise that’s not healthy for children and other growing things.
Forget sports, which was always about Us and Them, and harmless, besides. Check our political process, which is supposed to be about ideas and is now, instead, about the law of the jungle.
How wild is this?
The Democrats recapture the presidency in 2008, ending eight years of wandering forlornly in the wilderness.
President Barack Obama, their new hope, ignores warnings not to tackle health care.
The Democrats’ left wing withholds support, arguing for a public option, a nonstarter with the GOP.
The left comes around—a year later when a bill passes, having exposed its new hope to fire from the right until then.
Rather than getting credit for his monumental achievement, or sympathy for trying to lead a nation that doesn’t want to be led in subsequent confrontations with the Nihilist Front, Obama is abandoned by liberal pundits, like the Washington Post’s Richard Cohen, who just called him “the personification of cognitive dissonance—the gap between what we (especially liberals) expected of the first serious African American presidential candidate and the man he in fact is ... [lacking even] the rhetorical qualities of the old-time black politicians.”
This, of course, assumes we’re still the nation that came together under FDR, JFK and Ronald Reagan, instead of one that has fractured into warring tribes with opposing worldviews and theories of history, people who are more like inhabitants of alternate universes than citizens of the same country.
The tribes are succored in their righteous anger by media outlets that play to their fears, determined to keep their niche audiences from coalescing back into any mainstream by any means necessary.
No, I don’t think what happened to me or the challenges facing newspapers and/or the anti-social aspects of the communications revolution presage The End.
If the world has made it this far through war, plagues and pestilence, a little communications revolution shouldn’t end life as we know it. But then, I’m an optimist.
I’m actually hoping to keep my severance, but most of all, I wanted to be a stand-up guy and to stand for something.
On the bright side, I didn’t go out on the copy desk.
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