Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

Imagine no … newspapers

Imagine there are no more newspapers.

No more reporters fanning out to meetings, car accidents and events to get the story and write it down. No more photographers to take the pictures and videos. No more copy editors to make sure the stories are accurate, balanced and meet the standards of the English language.

No more designers to make sure the pages look good and readable. No more printing plant workers to set up the presses and put the plates on those giant rollers.

I have to confess that when people took tours of the paper when I worked in journalism, I made sure that they knew that while reporters and editors did an important job, it was at the printing plant that “the magic happened.” I loved working at papers that had their printing plants on site, and I would marvel that they could set up the press so it could produce a newspaper. I thought I was pretty bright, but some of those guys performed miracles to get those papers printed.

No more people driving the wee hours of the morning to bring what we in the business call “the dead-tree edition” to your house, throwing it in front of your house for you to pick up and take out of its plastic sleeve, then spread across your kitchen table or fold for later reading.

I read once that marketers evaluating a community would drive through neighborhoods early in the morning and see which houses had blue-wrapped papers because that’s the color of wrap used by The New York Times.

Newspapers are dying, and I fear that in my lifetime there will come a day when news is relegated to the Web. That’s not totally a bad thing, but lots of people who work in journalism and the news business are going to join me on the unemployment line. Newspapers will be missed, I hope.

A newspaper is easy to carry, easy to read. There’s no boot-up time, no Windows crashes, no viruses to delete the hard drive and no batteries that run dead in the middle of an airline flight. You don’t need Wi-Fi or a credit card to access that pile of paper that you can fold into a carry-on bag or briefcase.

Just some change and a desire to know what’s going on in the world.

I know there are people who glory at the prospect of newspapers going away. No more liberal reporters spreading their toxic views over every story, no more liberal columnists spreading vile misinformation, no more editorial pages cheering every liberal initiative would be the benefit of newspapers’ demise.

The people would decide what’s news, the people would write it, the people would edit it and the god of the free market would decide which news Web sites lived, and which ones died. Some might have you believe that the first step to a truly free press and an engaged news media is to get the professionals out of journalism and get the citizens to work reporting the unbiased news.

There was a big deal a few years ago about “hyperlocal” journalism, in which Web sites written by regular people as opposed to irregular people like professional reporters would give folks the news of the day in their communities.

It’s an admirable idea, especially as local newspapers pretty much abandon such news to direct their limited resources at big local stories like city and county commissions, and the school board. I bet even a printed newspaper that just did local news and stayed away from state, national and world news could do quite well.

But many of the sites are gone, and while others are trying to take their place and I wish them well, it’s easy to see what happened.

I recall one site that promised me really local news, but the sum total of its news were day-old traffic reports and three occurrences of the same press release lamenting the lack of financial education in the public schools.

Where was the journalism? Where was the reporting?

The thing is that it’s not easy producing journalism on a consistent basis. Believe me, even at the Boca Raton News with dedicated people running things and doing the work, it was hard and took a lot of effort. It looks easy when you see the finished product on your computer screen or at the breakfast table, but getting the story, getting it right, getting people to talk to you, getting it edited and getting it on paper takes time and effort.

You can try to do it with part-timers and “citizen-reporters,” but to do local journalism consistently, you need professionals.

I mean, we don’t go to “citizen-doctors” or “citizen-dentists,” so if you want an in-depth look at the school budget or the actions of the police department that goes beyond “they’re doing such an awesome job,” you probably want a reporter who can get the information and get it out, as well as editors (like I was) who can read the story and find the gaps in it.

A number of folks have said that newspapers may die, but the values behind them have to live on when journalists’ work is going out on the Web.

And while state, national and world news is still going to be so vital, the lifeblood of the business will be local news, and the best people to get that news out are the professional journalists who were and – in some cases – still are getting the story in your town.

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March 11, 2009 - Posted by | Living in the modern age, The news business | , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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