I took my “Mass Media and Society” class to The Oregonian and Willamette Week last night and came away more certain than ever that newspapers are in their death throes. Sure, we heard a lot of brave words about the future, but when the editors we talked to got down to specifics you could tell the ground was shaking beneath their feet — and that they had only vague ideas about what to do about it.
Convergence to screens like the ones we are staring at means that we’ll be seeing more and more video on “newspaper” web sites. In other words, newspapers will evolve into TV news programs. More and more news decisions will be driven by the demands of video’s moving, mesmerizing images. We will have less explanation and analysis and more touching, emotive “scenes” and “moments.”
The appeal will be to feelings, not thought. To haphazard, disconnected impressions, not linear, logical reasoning.
Technology is in the driver’s seat, and I for one don’t want to go where it is taking us.
The other concern at the newspapers is that the era of presses as money-making machines is over. No lucrative replacement is anywhere in sight. The Internet produces a small fraction of the revenue print did for papers. And so the forced transition of newspapers to the internet has meant smaller staffs, smaller papers, reporting on the cheap (read, crime news) and fluff.
There is no end in sight.
As I sat in its big news conference room, I imagined the hulking Oregonian building on SW Broadway housing neat insurance companies or law offices. Out with cluttered journalists’ cubicles.
As I see it, the best we can hope for are little networks and co-operatives of quasi-independent journalists who band together to market themselves and to build reputations for accuracy, fairness and compelling writing. But even they will have to compete on, and succumb to, screen images that purport to inform.
Old newspapers (and books and magazines) will be collected like typewriters, slide rules and “film” cameras.
The last print journalism to go will be the small, so-called “niche” publications. Many of them will be (and are) little more than advertising vehicles.
Then they too will give way to portable reading devices, whose photo reproductions will match, or exceed, those of the glossiest magazine. More than that, their photos will be (and are) moving pictures. Vanity Fair, Wired and The New Yorker can never match that capability within the confines of the printed page.
Finally, as the ways we are informed rapidly evolve, we, as sentient beings, will be changed. Note that we will not choose to change. The media environment will literally change us in how we relate to each other, how we make judgments, how our children learn and come of age, how we act and react, how we form our values, how we confront the future.
The speed of the change will be measured in a handful of years, perhaps even months. What took a century before, may take, at most, a decade. (Try to remember where we were in 1998.) In a single lifetime, a person will experience four or five generations remarkably dissimilar, almost alien one to another.
And above it all will be inexorable technological change whose far-flung, independent engineers and scientists will continue to be blind to, and seemingly unconcerned about, their inventions’ consequences to humanity and the planet.
Labels: internet, The Oregonian, TV news, Willamette Week