Wednesday, January 28, 2009

They've only had 28 years to figure this out

Picked up your local newspaper lately? Not much to it anymore, is there?

The ink-stained wretches are wretched, indeed, these days, and a whole medium is being washed away by the Two Horsemen of the Apocalypse -- the Internet and the tanking economy. A whole way of life, and the jobs that went with it, are being swept out into the troubled financial waters.

What? Four horsemen?

No, you didn't hear. (Probably because there was no room in The Daily Blab.) Two of the horsemen got laid off.

Well, there's one thing you can do in the face of this sudden media disaster. When next you see a publisher or an editor crying crocodile tears over what has befallen his newsroom . . . punch the son of a bitch in the nose. Then hand him a handkerchief.

BECAUSE, YOU SEE, what the Internet would ultimately do to newspapers has been a long time coming. The publishers and editors saw it coming. We all saw it coming.

We for sure saw this day coming 15 years ago, back when we were marveling at the news and information you could get off of America Online and CompuServe. But it was more obvious than even that -- we saw an inkling of it with the fledgling over-the-airwaves teletext services of the mid-1980s.

And, as we see in the above 1981 news story from San Francisco's KRON television, newspapers damn well knew this day was coming. Back then, geeks and the well-heeled were playing with Apple II, TRS-80 and original IBM personal computers that set them back $1,000-plus -- and newspapers like the San Francisco Examiner were making their content (sans ads or pictures) available for download.

Still, editors felt no sense of urgency in the days when online access was expensive and it took a couple of hours to download the paper via an old-style acoustic modem.

THAT NONCHALANCE about the computer world held sway for a long time -- I remember when I was a copy editor at the defunct (of course) Baton Rouge State-Times in the mid-to-late 1980s, only a couple of privileged longtime copy editors were instructed how to use the newsroom's lone Macintosh.

I wasn't one of them.

That nonchalance never did give way to any sense of urgency, come to think of it. For the last decade-plus, most newspapers' websites have remained red-headed stepchildren. And it is the Amazing Shrinking Print Edition that sets the agenda for the Uppity Whippersnapper Online Presence.

And for every cool online effort like the New York Times' or the Las Vegas Sun's, you have sorry, unnavigable messes like . . . well, most everything else.

NOW, THOUGH, broadband ubiquity has met Great Depression II, and that ink-stained nonchalance has given way to wild-eyed panic. Well, ye guardians of the Fourth Estate, you abandoned the parapets to go smoke cigars and admire your double-digit returns on investment.

And now the barbarians are at the gate, and you're desperately trying to reinforce it with the bodies of your cast-off employees. But it's too late.

I hope our new media regime will be a benevolent one. I hope that benevolence doesn't extend to Mr. Editor and Mr. Publisher.

Jason Siffring.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's gonna be hard to eat crawfish and crabs on top of my laptop keyboard!!