Don Rogers: The end? Maybe not so much
Oh dear. Looks like even the Newspaper Association of America has abandoned newspapers. They announced a week ago they’d be the News Media Alliance now.
The apocalypse must be nigh.
It was nigh when I began my career, too. No less a visionary than Ted Turner said so in 1981, after launching CNN. He gave newspapers a decade to die.
Radio foretold the end in the 1920s. Then television. Then cable television, direct mail, desktop publishing, AOL, the WorldWide Web, MySpace, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, Patch, the whole social media thing. Oh, and mobile. That last one might just do it.
But wait. There’s more. Virtual reality. Augmented reality. When Google glasses evolve to contacts. And whatever comes next. This has only just begun.
Meantime, book books are dead, only they’re not. Magazines are dead, only they’re not. Newspapers have been dead and buried for almost 100 years. Only you probably are reading this piece on newsprint.
TV and radio as we’ve known them might be in even more trouble than papers. And funny thing, digital has disrupted digital most of all.
Maybe, finally, the apocalypse is nigh for newspapers. But this misses the real issue for society. It’s not newspapers or the next big thing. We’re really talking about journalism here.
That sharp-witted observer of society, John Oliver, pointed out recently that newspapers provide the vast bulk of the news reporting today. Digital operations, radio and television pretty much repurpose what the newspapers cover. Kill the papers, kill the journalism. Everything else functions mainly as ticks on the greater body.
Yes, Oliver and I exaggerate. There is some fine original work on television and radio, though both do rely heavily on the print wretches.
In the online universe, the journalism comes largely from the legacy operations — the newspapers, news magazines, networks, NPR. Most purely digital sites skip the expense of journalists and aggregate what’s already out there.
The giants Google and Facebook can afford to fund journalism, but why? It’s all done for them. Mainly by newspapers. Besides, they aim to be infrastructure, not lightning rods.
Buzzfeed, aside from its exploding-watermelon coverage, invests in genuine journalism. That is, applying a variant of the scientific method to events and issues of the day to issue accurate, fact-checked and timely news reports.
They and their cousins would wither quickly if they had to run on their own earnings, though. Turn off the investment spigot and they’re done.
Localized news apps and websites, with rare exception, bloom in spring and are dead before the foothills grass goldens.
The thing is, advertisers don’t care so much about newspapers or news. They need to reach the people most likely to buy from them, period.
So news media companies don’t get to just chase the news. Their aim isn’t primarily journalism, either. It’s gathering and building audiences. If that takes exploding watermelons or the Kardashians, well, there’s one path.
Smalltown papers have always required an audience of readers already interested in their community, civic and otherwise. This is an acquired taste, more peas than plum pudding. You have to mature some for local news to grow on you.
The wisest business people and other community leaders I’ve met over the years will tell you that keeping up with the local paper — even a terrible one — is essential to their success. Gossip only gets you so far.
Journalism has plenty of flaws, to be sure. It’s practiced unevenly. There’s no such thing as pure objectivity, only basic fairness of mind. What constitutes journalism varies greatly, too. NPR is not Rolling Stone is not The Wall Street Journal is not CNN.
Or The Union or YubaNet or KNCO or KVMR, which all serve people interested in the world closest to them.
Western Nevada County also is blessed with a swarm of online bloggers. While mainly they gnaw at what they read or heard or saw from news outlets, they serve a high purpose, too.
What for 152 years we’ve called a newspaper, though, The Union has served as the mainstay news gatherer. Imperfectly, sure. Journalism and punditry are messy, thoroughly human enterprises. We simply have managed even today to put the most humans on the job.
But we don’t have to do it on newsprint. Increasingly, we’re branching out, too.
After all, it’s the news that matters. Not the paper.
Publisher Don Rogers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 477-4299.
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