13 January 2009

OMG! The print media are collapsing!

I can hardly stand it -- honestly, I think about this hours every day these days. Partly because I feel I am a journalist by nature (more on that later), and partly because I know lots of journalists and it makes me sad that this is so soon-to-be an extinct avenue for us writers to ply our trades. I'll have to work a newspaper's crash into this novel I'm writing because it's almost nauseatingly fascinating, in the exact way that a train wreck or building demolition fascinates.

Now it's all about blogging. (But how suddenly the focus shifts! And the game is your content but your marketing, how you are "driving traffic to your web site," and your SEO, and which I had to look up because I didn't know what that was. SEO seems to comes down to writing these shell documents that purport to be about a topic but really sound like collections of up to 500 sentences that include key words. It seems to be all about including in these web articles enough popular search terms to get search engines to find you.)

So now we can go off and earn money with this not exactly writing but more word-gathering, like woolgathering, I suppose. We can hawk a company's wares. But we can't write editorials for our local paper much longer, not the paper as we know it.

And so I grieve. It makes me sad to read Michael Hirschorn's article in the Atlantic, in which he asks what if The New York Times disappears from newsstands "like, this May?" I'm even sadder in a way to have already seen the article's publication Tweeted and have followed the link to read it online days before the hard copy arrived in my mailbox. An era is ending, and coming down hard around us, along with everything else that's imploding right now, right before our very eyes.

We still need to write it all down, I feel more acutely than ever. We need to report the truth about what we know. The newspapers of record are important because they try to get the truth about the matters at hand. The need for this work is critical to an open and democratic society, and we haven't yet figured out how we're going to replace this work. As have the reporters so far who have risked life and limb and peace of mind to go after the stories, we must remain vigilant in our pursuit of the truth, each and every day. If each of us is holed up with our laptop writing nonsense "articles" for not much fun and a little more profit and we have all taken jobs doing PR for one version of The Man or another, who will be left to write the letters when the potholes get out of hand?

It's going to as important as ever before that we each one of us take some responsibility for getting the news out, by writing letters to congress critters, blogging, or doing what we can do to report on the issues before each of us, before the city councils and our governments, all the way up the chains of our companies and our governments.

My blogs could be seen as word collections, I suppose, in which I randomly opine about various topics. But they are my reports of the truth, and no one else's. They capture what I am thinking at a particular moment, and I have found it useful to to see what themes have grabbed my attention over time. I sometimes wish each one of us could do this so we could see "tag clouds" of what everyone in Boulder is blogging about, or what city council members are writing about, or what local artists are saying (oh, wait -- that's Twitter! Well, not really, given the self-selected, early-adopter nature of the Twitter population).

At present I have a large interest in public health and that is what my novel is about, but I also think mass transit and alternative energy are tremendous avenues that can help provide economic and social solutions. So I write in hopes of helping spread the word about how that can be facilitated. I am grateful for the new social media tools, but I can't help starting to grieve the losses of our newsgathering institutions already. I didn't realize how quickly Web 2.0 would mean the demolitions of all these institutions that have been the foundations of my world.

It's as if suddenly someone announced that there will be no more college professors, and all professors will have to compete for jobs that pay $8 to $15 an hour now; that industry is gone. I like so many of us also didn't realize we were plunging into an economic quagmire whose dust and muddy waters are a long way from subsiding, and that is likely to accelerate the decline of the news agencies even further. And I'm not even sure most people realize this is happening yet (I blame my reliance on Twitter for my current angst level). I grieve selfishly, in part: until recently, I thought writing for a newspaper or magazine would always be a career possibility, and now I don't.

What will replace this? I'm having a hard time believing it's e-books, or the computer, and not just because of my old screen and older eyes. And who will send out and pay the newsgatherers? I haven't optimized my site much for search engines (I have a little by adding the metadata in the form of what blogger.com calls "labels" but most people call "tags," metadata being another fave topic of mine), but I know there's value in my perspective here in my little corner of the blogosphere (which I think of as the bloggersphere). I'm convinced there's value in my voice and others' saying, out loud, "I can't believe they still sell Lariam! If you go on a trip to a tropical land, be sure to do your research on it before you take one of those pills. Lariam can be gnarly."

Or, "Gay people are people too, and so are bisexual people."

Or, "We have to love each other."

Or, "We have to look out for each other in traffic."

You get the picture.

Write on. Tweet on, blog on, write to your representative. But keep on reporting on the truth. The media may be vanishing, but the need never will.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love reading a local blogg and its writers take on the city and the lack of media coverage. The city is a mini Detroit and the mayor has a history of throwing punches. (yes literally) The city has a decling business and people numbers but the mayors office reports different. He says things like " The city isn't shrinking- not on my watch" . He can't control a thing like that.

The city has huge issues and we need these people saying something. The local paper is part of a huge company and lost many readers for violating union contracts and more bad things to employees.

I just hope that journalists find a way to keep making money. As all creative types in the net world of mass reproduction.