Yes, print journalism has a future

A lot of very educated people, ones who won spelling bees when they were younger and received honor PhDs as they got older, are saying that the newspaper is on its way out.

Some of these scholars and academics preach from their ivory towers and from behind massive oak desks that the newspaper should only be used to line the bottom of pet-boxes, if even that. And to those scholars I would have to say that the newspaper is not dead, not yet. No — in a way, the newspaper is being reborn.

A lot of folks would say that it’s a very bad idea to start a newspaper right now, and this is not a lie, but it only applies if the person starting said newspaper is taking the old route: basing the entire paper on ad revenue, daily distribution and wire services.

This route works well when the economy is good, but the closure of papers like the San Francisco Chronicle, the Seattle Post Intelligencer, the Rocky Mountain News and the Ann Arbor News showed us that even some of the most established newspapers can’t make the cut when times are tough.

As a journalist, I’m not excited about the closure of any newspaper, as I believe they’re an important tool for providing the public with objective and unbiased coverage about the events that affect or interest them — but from the ashes of this old model, a new model of print journalism presents itself.

Now, the idea of actually having something to read, hold, touch and feel is very important and the Internet, in its short history, has managed to gradually rob us of this ability. Still, the ability to pick up and read a paper is an important thing. As Manitoban alumni Marshall McLuhan explained in Tom Wolfe’s article “What if he’s right,” people don’t read newspapers anymore, instead they get into them like a warm bath.

That’s why if I were ever to start a newspaper, there would be a hard copy, one that people could read while waiting for a bus, but the difference would be that my newspaper would publish once every month, and it would be paid for by audience sponsored journalism. Now you’re probably saying, “That’s no newspaper, that’s a magazine,” and that’s where your wrong.

It would still have the broadsheet layout, but instead of concentrating on daily distribution the paper would focus more on long investigative pieces, long term reporting with quality being more important then quantity. There would be an element of the paper online to be updated daily, but what needs to be stressed the most is that this newspaper would still exist on paper.

The online version of the paper would be based on hyper local content, quick posts from a team of dedicated reporters who give a damn about providing the best news possible in the best way possible.

In Harpers, Richard Rodriguez published an article called “Twilight of the American Newspaper.” Within this article, Rodriguez describes almost every young journalist I know, and this scares me because if he’s right, journalism will be a shadow of its former self.

He perfectly describes the group of next generation journalists who are in it just so they can call themselves a reporter or editor, simply because it gives them status and makes them come off as cultured, not giving a damn about freedom of the press or the importance of a newspaper, just trying to cut out a spot in society where they can drink wine and look down at all the people they can smugly dismiss.

These are the same journalists who can’t just listen to a conversation; instead they have to go out of their way to make a point, even though it adds nothing of any use. These are the same journalists who should just put the pen down and go and be a curator or take up some other occupation that you can wave in people’s faces, because there is a lot more at stake then your status.

Rodriguez writes: “You know what futurists and online-ists and cut-out-the-middle-man-ists and Davos-ists and deconstructionists of every stripe want for themselves? They want exactly what they tell you you no longer need, you pathetic, overweight, disembodied Kindle reader. They want white linen tablecloths on trestle tables in the middle of vineyards on soft blowy afternoons. (You can click your bottle of wine online. Cheaper.) They want to go shopping on Saturday afternoons on the Avenue Victor Hugo; they want the pages of their New York Times all kind of greasy from croissant crumbs and butter at a café table in Aspen; they want to see their names in hard copy in the “New Establishment” issue of Vanity Fair; they want a 19th-century bookshop; they want to see the plays in London, they want to float down the Nile in a felucca; they want five-star bricks and mortar and ‘do not disturb’ signs and views of the park.”

These journalists are the exact reason why newspapers failed. Sure, the Internet might have been part of it, but all the ‘net really did was show these status-seeking journalists that anyone can do their job. Anyone who cares enough to inform the public with a journalistic goal in mind can do the same, if not a better job than a reporter who cares more about letting the world know that they’re a journalist than covering the news.

All this being said, I don’t know what the media industry is going to look like 10 years down the road and I would be a fool to say otherwise, but one thing I know for sure is that the better reporter will come out on top, whether they’re drinking wine or water, in a slum or in a sauna, and that makes me feel a little better.