Newspaper nostalgia

Thomas Lifson
A leading scholar in the comparatively young academic field of popular culture studies told me years ago that people become nostalgic for something only after the object in question has lost its power and ceased to be threatening. The example he used was steam locomotives, which were long a symbol of power, ruthless change, rapacious railway companies, dirt, and lots of other negatives. It was only when steam locomotives were clearly doomed that they became regarded with affection by members of the general public.

If this insight remains true, then the newspaper industry clearly is doomed, and everyone, even inside the industry, at some level understands this. How else to interpret this article from The Age, Melbourne, Ausralia's prestigious left-leaning newspaper. Writer Rachel Buchannan begins her essay:
INK, ribbons, hot metal, blue pencils, spikes, stones, presses, plates, blue collars, scalpels, rulers, picture wheels, wire photos, carbon copies, cigarettes, tubs of photographic chemicals: newspaper offices used to be places where you would always get your hands dirty. Only snobs or big heads called themselves journalists. The rest of us were reporters.
Ms. Buchannan informs us, with a hint of implied sadness, that she no longer works as a reporter or journalist, or whatever. She now teaches in a university journalism program. And she has the honesty to note immediately:
... the exponential growth in journalism degrees bears little relationship to job opportunity. Between 1987 and 1992, for example, 16 metropolitan newspapers closed in Australia. A weird counter to this, though, is what I see as anti-professionalism, most notably the rise in so-called citizen or participatory journalism made possible by the net.
And at this point, the essay turns to what seems to be its main point, the familiar complaint of journalists, reporters, or whatever that the inmates have taken over the asylum. She brings up a lot of interesting information on print and web-based publications in Australia and New Zealand, including this fascinating experiment:
One version of journalism's future was uploaded in March when Fairfax Digital launched The Brisbane Times, Australia's first metropolitan online-only newspaper. The "meet the staff" section of the website shows 14 mostly very youthful smiling faces. Surely there were more people than that employed. I rang and discovered that the Times is put out by 12 local editorial staff. Half are reporters and half are producers who copy taste, select stories, do layout, write headlines and edit. Granted they are 12 new journalism jobs but still, the News Limited hard-copy competition, The Courier-Mail, has 215 editorial staff, including about 20 dedicated online journos.
This bears close observation. There are already a lot of newspapers which would love to dispense with the costly, time-consuming, resource-intensive process of printing and distributing a physical version of their product, and escape the surly bounds of mass, thriving (or so they hope) on the internet. Or so I am told by informants within that industry.

I take this rather candid essay as further evidence of the death throes of the daily print newspaper business. And despite my differences with the domination of the business by left wingers, I take no joy, and have my own aliquot of nostalgia for the vanishing media. I used to read two or three print newspapers a day for decade upon decade.

But those of us who are (in Jonah Goldberg's phrase) "pixel-stained wretches" are like the railroad buffs who know enough to remember the horrendous pollution, maintenance problems, slow acceleration, and other issues of steam locomotives, and celebrate the fact that today's American railroads move far more traffic with a fraction of the labor needed in the days of steam. Funny how the "progressives" in the journalism biz aren't exactly thrilled by such progress in their industry. But then again, neither were the firemen who used to shovel coal into the boilers of locomotives. They held onto do-nothing jobs on diesels until the railroads could no longer afford them and started going bankrupt in large numbers.

I take this essay as part eulogy, part lament, and a definite sign of what lies ahead. We still don't know what it will look like, but it is unlikely to need very manygraduates of Ms. Buchannan's journalism program.

Hat tip: Joseph Crowley

Thomas Lifson is editor and publisher of American Thinker.
A leading scholar in the comparatively young academic field of popular culture studies told me years ago that people become nostalgic for something only after the object in question has lost its power and ceased to be threatening. The example he used was steam locomotives, which were long a symbol of power, ruthless change, rapacious railway companies, dirt, and lots of other negatives. It was only when steam locomotives were clearly doomed that they became regarded with affection by members of the general public.

If this insight remains true, then the newspaper industry clearly is doomed, and everyone, even inside the industry, at some level understands this. How else to interpret this article from The Age, Melbourne, Ausralia's prestigious left-leaning newspaper. Writer Rachel Buchannan begins her essay:
INK, ribbons, hot metal, blue pencils, spikes, stones, presses, plates, blue collars, scalpels, rulers, picture wheels, wire photos, carbon copies, cigarettes, tubs of photographic chemicals: newspaper offices used to be places where you would always get your hands dirty. Only snobs or big heads called themselves journalists. The rest of us were reporters.
Ms. Buchannan informs us, with a hint of implied sadness, that she no longer works as a reporter or journalist, or whatever. She now teaches in a university journalism program. And she has the honesty to note immediately:
... the exponential growth in journalism degrees bears little relationship to job opportunity. Between 1987 and 1992, for example, 16 metropolitan newspapers closed in Australia. A weird counter to this, though, is what I see as anti-professionalism, most notably the rise in so-called citizen or participatory journalism made possible by the net.
And at this point, the essay turns to what seems to be its main point, the familiar complaint of journalists, reporters, or whatever that the inmates have taken over the asylum. She brings up a lot of interesting information on print and web-based publications in Australia and New Zealand, including this fascinating experiment:
One version of journalism's future was uploaded in March when Fairfax Digital launched The Brisbane Times, Australia's first metropolitan online-only newspaper. The "meet the staff" section of the website shows 14 mostly very youthful smiling faces. Surely there were more people than that employed. I rang and discovered that the Times is put out by 12 local editorial staff. Half are reporters and half are producers who copy taste, select stories, do layout, write headlines and edit. Granted they are 12 new journalism jobs but still, the News Limited hard-copy competition, The Courier-Mail, has 215 editorial staff, including about 20 dedicated online journos.
This bears close observation. There are already a lot of newspapers which would love to dispense with the costly, time-consuming, resource-intensive process of printing and distributing a physical version of their product, and escape the surly bounds of mass, thriving (or so they hope) on the internet. Or so I am told by informants within that industry.

I take this rather candid essay as further evidence of the death throes of the daily print newspaper business. And despite my differences with the domination of the business by left wingers, I take no joy, and have my own aliquot of nostalgia for the vanishing media. I used to read two or three print newspapers a day for decade upon decade.

But those of us who are (in Jonah Goldberg's phrase) "pixel-stained wretches" are like the railroad buffs who know enough to remember the horrendous pollution, maintenance problems, slow acceleration, and other issues of steam locomotives, and celebrate the fact that today's American railroads move far more traffic with a fraction of the labor needed in the days of steam. Funny how the "progressives" in the journalism biz aren't exactly thrilled by such progress in their industry. But then again, neither were the firemen who used to shovel coal into the boilers of locomotives. They held onto do-nothing jobs on diesels until the railroads could no longer afford them and started going bankrupt in large numbers.

I take this essay as part eulogy, part lament, and a definite sign of what lies ahead. We still don't know what it will look like, but it is unlikely to need very manygraduates of Ms. Buchannan's journalism program.

Hat tip: Joseph Crowley

Thomas Lifson is editor and publisher of American Thinker.