No One Knows What to Do About Newspapers. Nothing Could Be the Answer.


deathofjournalismWhat’s happening to newspapers breaks my heart. And I mention this not as one of those nostalgia-filled newspaper guys but as someone who, like most people, has had a relationship with print — the tactile feel of print — all of my life. It’s a personal thing — those photos of me as a little boy on 150th Street in Kew Gardens Hills, sitting on my parents green sectional sofa wearing my mothers glasses and pretending to be reading the New York Times or sitting at a little stack table we had, pencil in hand (or maybe my ear?), pretending to be diligently working on the Sunday crossword. (No one could top my grandfather, who could do the crossword in an hour.) I also have these wonderful memories of being 5, 6 or 7 and riding my tricycle (or maybe my bicycle?) along 71st Road, I think, turning to Kissena Boulevard, as my dad walked to the Butterflake Bakery each Sunday morning to get rolls (and a sprinkle cookie for me) and the Daily News. My dad used to carry a satchel to work and I loved diving into it to bring out the newspaper — the way it smelled of newsprint, let alone the tactile sensation. When I was a teenager, I went through a phase where newsprint for some reason, when coming into contact with my eyes, made my eyelid swell up, so I’d swig Benadryl to help it go down. My internship at TheaterWeek magazine in January 1990, watching the ink dry on the pages clipped through the miracle of clothespins to strings in the rear of the office. Paper is fundamental. Paper is essential. Sorry, Amazon, I think the Kindle is cute, but the Kindle is not newspaper or a book or a magazine. The Kindle is cataclysmic and the future all at once.

So I’m amused, to the point of sadness, by the avalanche of ideas to try to save newspapers.

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David Geffen, as was widely reported today, would like to buy The New York Times and turn it into a nonprofit. That’s what a call largesse, but who believes that Geffen, of all people, would make a purchase solely for philanthropic aims?

But Gov. Christine Gregoire of Washington State signed legislation dramatically slashing the corporate taxes on newspaper companies, echoing tax breaks “given in years past to the Boeing Co. and the timber industry.”

Well, the U.S. Senate is concerned about the situation — Important Hearings, You Know! — but no, sorry, there’s going to be no bailout for newspapers. Cars are more important than journalism, you see — since we all know we can drive the news.

But that’s also because everyone now is going to start charging for content and hope that people actually pay up. For example, just by googling “newspapers,” I learned the Salt Lake City Tribune is going to start charging for content, and so will or may the Denver Post, part of the MediaNews organization.

Meanwhile, the Guardian ran a story with the phrase “newspapers are dead,” a phrase that has a kind of early-1980s Trapper John, M.D. quality to it, but then, there is the matter of whether the Kindle represents the second coming for newspapers in the first place. Never mind the threat that the New York Times threatened to shutter the Boston Globe if the unions didn’t do so much in the way of givebacks that univeral suffrage and the entire history of Civil Rights has been revoked.

And a piece in the Economist, which is a guilty pleasure of mine, sums a lot of this up quite nicely in the dek of this story: “The internet is killing newspapers and giving birth to a new sort of news business.”

My question is what sort of news business will this be and who will work in it? How many people will it employ? What will their ethics and standards be? What will their expectations be? What will our expectations be? And will we at all recognize it when it’s here?