Even people who spend a lot of time with dusty documents from long ago, like me, have noticed the huge changes in our information industry. I’m a book-and-newspaper guy. I can spend 20-30 happy minutes every day with the Washington Post. I write books. But those are swiftly becoming pleasures equivalent to riding in buckboard wagon, or churning butter.
Let’s start with newspapers. A website called Paper Cuts tracks the layoffs and downsizing in the industry. Over 2,000 newspaper jobs disappeared in the second half of 2007; over 3,000 so far this year. Just this week, 55 jobs were cut at the Memphis Commercial Appeal, and 32 at Newsday on Long Island. Here’s a map they have created of the lob reductions.
This is not a blip. This is the slow — maybe not so slow — death of an industry. It has happened before, in smaller doses. For a while, afternoon newspapers were powerful, but then the evening news on television mostly killed them off Remember when the weekly newsmagazines were important? It mattered who was on the cover of Time or Newsweek. I haven’t thought about that for a decade or more.
As much as this trend depresses me, we need to look past it. What will be next? I’ve been trying, in my copious spare time, to think about what are the important things that need to be preserved in the electronically-delivered news industry that plainly will be replacing the famjilliar morning paper. So I want to start with a few propositions, and write about them in the coming weeks.
1. In-depth and independent reporting has to be preserved and strengthened.
2. Notions of objective reporting must be preserved.
3. Access to public and private information has to be strengthened.
4. Wide distribution of information is essential.
5. Undergirding it all, viable economic models have to be developed.
What am I missing?