We were over my in-laws’ house for Mother’s Day, and I did something rather unusual — I actually read a newspaper… from newsprint! Here’s what happened…
I saw these quaint bundles of paper sitting on the counter and inquired as to what they were. My father-in-law said they are called “newspapers” and that, in his day, it was how they got the news. (I know I know… as shocking as it is, I learned that RSS feeds are actually relatively new.)
I was surprised to find that the same information I read on my iPhone and Kindle could be found printed on paper and ink. (I also found that they left their mark on my fingers…) Strikingly, the first article I actually read was on this very subject, and it certainly makes my list of recommended reading as you start a new week.
In an op-ed piece Frank Rich talks about “The American Press On Suicide Watch“. He discusses something that is often a topic of conversation here on the site — the transition from old media to new media and the shift from dead tree newspaper and books to electronic versions. Rich does an excellent job discussing how the transition has accelerated as a result of the worldwide economic meltdown. The fact is that it’s just cheaper to deliver content electronically than it is to go through the process of printing and then distributing it in a timely manner.
He also does an excellent job of putting this transition into context. He writes,
…this self-destructive retreat from innovation is hardly novel in the history of American communications in the last transformative tech revolution before the Internet — televisions emergence in the late 1940s — the pattern was remarkably similar. Entertainment industry referred to TV as “the monster” and by 1951, the editor of the industry’s trade paper, variety, was fearful that the monster would “eventually swallow up practically all of show business.” Movies that killed Vaudeville generation earlier.
There have always been transitions from old modes of accomplishing something to new, more efficient ways thanks to innovative technology. The telephone put the telegraph out of business. The automobile put the horse and buggy out to pasture. And the Gutenberg printing press did little to help provide job security to the, then printing presses of the day — scribes. The very nature of technological advances is that one mode of doing things is replaced by a newer one.
But Rich, in his wisdom, doesn’t focus on the shift in technology but rather what it means for the creation and distribution of the information via that technology. To get a better understanding of his argument one would need only look at the current movie State of Play. In one dramatic scene the movie captures the conflict between bloggers and reporters. It, like Rich, moves past the technological differences to focus on the real, core issue, the depth of the reporting. It is, both Rich and the movie point out, only through serious investigative reporting that some of the great scandals have been uncovered. Bloggers are not, for the most part, in a position to do the research to uncover the governments warrantless wiretapping, the scams at Enron, or the steroids scandal in baseball (just to name a few that Rich discusses.)
As Rich points out,
it’s immaterial whether we find the fruits of their (reporters) labors on paper, laptop screen, a Blackberry, a Kindle or podcast. But someone — and certainly not the government, with all its conflict of interests — must pay for this content and make every effort to police its fairness and accuracy.
Ultimately THAT is the issue at hand. There is no doubt technology is pushing us toward electronic books and news. That isn’t a bad thing. If, however, we lose the depth of insight and research that have been part of them… if news reporting gets as sloppy as txting has made most of us when we send notes… it is a very bad thing indeed.
The article is a must read for anyone interested in technology. It is available anywhere that yesterday’s newspapers can be found or… if you want it immediately, for free and without the smudgy ink on your fingers… go HERE.