Howard Kurtz waxes sentimentally about the slow decline of newspapers and the Washington Post's latest buyout offer in yesterday's WaPo. I can't really blame him; even after being out of the business for 14 years, I still get all misty-eyed about the newspaper life.
I discovered journalism my junior year in high school and instantly fell in love with it. I worked on college papers and our local fish wrap, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. I worked in a variety of departments in the 10 years I stayed at the Startlegram, and I generally enjoyed most of what I did, which was mainly clerical with just enough reporting and editing thrown in to keep me hanging around.
My life was the newspaper. My friends were there. My colleagues were there. My first husband was there. And we marked life by newspaper events. My first child was born the day the Soviet Union fell, but, to us, the really big news was that the Dallas Times Herald finally folded.
Kurtz doesn't really go into it much, but the truth is that newspaper life is hard, both personally and professionally, and newspapers have been in decline since the 1970s, long before I darkened the door of one. He talks about newspapers being slow to catch on to the digital revolution, but that was always the way of the press; we used antiquated equipment cast off from other organizations long after computer pagination was common.
The important part of Kurtz's column comes at the end, when he discusses the attitudes of Millenialists.
The ticking time bomb here is the wholesale abandonment of newspapers by younger people who grew up with a point-and-click mentality. When I was speaking at Harvard recently, a smug graduate student said, "I get everything I need from YouTube. What are you going to do about it?"
"What are you going to do about it?" I shot back. If people want to tune out the news, no one can compel them to change their habits. We can be smarter, faster and jazzier in providing information, but we can't force-feed the stuff. If newspapers wither and die, it will be in part because the next generation blew us off in favor of Xbox and Wii and full-length movies on their iPods. Network news faces the same erosion. Maybe, in the end, we get the media we deserve.
For Kurtz and other news junkies, it's difficult to comprehend that most people don't really care about the newspaper (unless they are paying for it and it doesn't show up on the porch one day). No one believes the press is objective, nor do they think the press is generally looking out for the U.S. over other global interests. Those on the left complain about corporate ownership and those on the right complain about liberal personal bias (both arguments have merit, btw). In the end, though, news will still be passed on, even if there isn't a quarterly profit margin to meet.