Will your children read the morning paper? Will they have a morning paper to read?
I walked into the Boston Herald-American’s newsroom for the first time in 1975. As a new reporter, I was given a desk and a manual typewriter. I typed my story on butcher-block paper and handed it to my editor. After crossing out all my adjectives and adverbs, he walked it over to the news desk, where a man (usually smoking a cigar) glanced at it, wrote a headline on another piece of paper, and then attached the story and the headline to a paper clip tied to a string, which he lowered through a hole in the news desk to the composing room in the basement. The printers set it in movable type. The next day, for two bits, you could buy the paper and read my story.
Today, of course, the typewriters are gone, the cigars are gone, and the paper costs considerably more than a quarter. Reporters have PCs and laptops; photographers shoot digitally. But despite all the slick surrounding technology, is today’s newspaper business any less antiquated than the Herald-American was back in 1975?
Possibly not. That’s the bad news bannered in Associate Staff Writer C.G. Lynch’s “Stop the Presses” about the disruptive and devastating impact of the Web on the newspaper business. Circulation, revenue and market valuations for newspapers have been plummeting for years. And who gets their news from the daily paper these days? I don’t.
Many papers are trying to leverage user-generated content to make themselves more relevant (and to control costs). They’re all investing heavily in their websites. It’s too early to say if any of this will work, but sometimes technology kills, and newspapers simply may not make business sense in an age where the Web has become ubiquitous and people’s information needs are being met by “citizen journalism” delivered through their phones and PDAs.
People use the Web to find what they need, to explore topics they’re already interested in, to create communities of the like-minded. The Web can give almost anyone a voice. But I’m not sure that it’s a great vehicle for listening to those voices.
How will we learn about the stuff we don’t know we need to learn about? Where will we find the story that we won’t think to search for? Through what window will the big world outside our own individual interests enter? That, I think, is what will be lost when (or if) the very last edition rolls off the press.