According to the Associated Press The Baltimore Sun just laid off 60 people in their news bureau. The article goes on to say that a good number of management level employees were also put out on the street. It’s ironic, in my view, that the AP finds itself reporting on what appears to be the eminent demise of another newspaper in the throes of “downsizing” by its parent group, The Tribune Company who finds itself in Chapter 11 purgatory.
I recently learned through a colleague that the Minneapolis Star Tribune is also in bankruptcy proceedings after having been purchased by a larger news organization a few years ago. Honestly, I got a bit of smug satisfaction in learning that bit of information, given my experiences with the “Strib” during my Northfield Days. It did get me thinking though if the theories about the race of the consumers away from print media to the mindless world of Google and Yahoo for their news source are valid.
I freely admit that my expertise in reference work came from the periodical index reference books in the hard cover editions in the library: writing down the reference numbers and soliciting the assistance of the librarians to find the text or magazines. There is still something enjoyable about the smell of a good magazine that is about 20 years old and the satisfaction of actually taking notes after reading the articles for reference, rather than cutting and pasting the information. I know that the most recent APA style affords the ability of referencing URLs and that’s fine, but back to the topic of why I think the print newspapers are having a hard time.
Could it be that it’s not so much about reader access? Could it be that it’s not really about reader time constraints? I wonder if it might be more along the lines of the same disillusionment that I’m witnessing with any variety of issues in our daily lives. In today’s Emporia Gazette, syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts Jr., of the Miami Herald commented on the difference between celebrity and being notorious. Pitts Jr. used the example of celebrity movie stars versus the recent attempt of disgraced former Illinois Governor, Rod Blagojevich’s attempt to land a spot on a NBC reality program. Is it perchance the fact that, as Pitts Jr. indicates, the line between being recognized as notorious and being recognized as a celebrity or even someone of a position of respect has been blurred?
I think that the business of reporting the news has become a business that just happens to represent itself as reporting the news. Perhaps the concept of the one person, small town newspaper business succeeded because it was the primary news source. Heck sometimes it was the only official news source. It was the place to secure the facts because the person reporting the facts was directly accountable to his clientele as often was the case with the tar and feather approach and a rail when the community didn’t always like the truth or agree with the editor/publisher. As technology grew, there were consolidated news agencies like the Associated Press to provide the news away from home. Somewhere along the way, the individual newspapers figured it was sexier to have their own reporters on the scene in the distant bureaus rather than relying on their peers. “Scooping” became an international game and has taken it’s toll I think. The bigger papers fought the gangs, the bad politicians and have unearthed some pretty sophisticated bad guys over the years; they also promoted racism, segregation, xenophobia and scared the hell out of people when communists were reported on every corner during the 1950’s.
Maybe a little more passion on the part of the editor to seek the truth, expose the emperor when he has no clothes and challenge the intellect of the readers could bring the readers back whether it is through print or through IPod. I submit we need the truth, even when it hurts. That takes courage, ethics and a willingness to lay it on the line. I think that is why there are a lot of media outlets in Chapter 11 and why the AP finds itself reporting as news the demise of the very tool in which we have always received the news.