Finding The New Cave Wall of Our Time
At least 120 newspapers in the U.S. have shut down since January 2008, according to Paper Cuts, a Web site tracking the newspaper industry. More than 21,000 jobs at 67 newspapers have vaporized in that time, according to the site.
Newspapers as we know them will be gone within 10 years, most in under three; get used to it and stop whining. Do you mourn the Betamax or cassette with such nostalgia? No, it's not the actual papers themselves we should be concerned about; it's the loss of the journalists, photographers and other artists that make them up. Many will adapt, some will be lost. And like Detroit, it's their fault in some ways.
The species that survives is the species that adapts. Newspapers and their antiquated business models did not adapt to the way consumers were changing their informational consumption. Just as record labels should have seen iTunes coming and invented their own way of selling their own artists and catalogues, newspapers should have long-ago concentrated on their web business model using print as nothing more than a way to drive people to the website; But because most are run by old white men, like record labels, they were on the late freight. Now, they're scrambling to thrive in a world that passed them by.
I read newspapers every day, over 30 of them all told. But never touch one scrap of ink. I read Time, Newsweek, Dwell, MacWorld, Advocate, so many other magazines as well, most through Zinio or other online or digital means. Stacks of newspapers and magazines and the fuel it took to get them to me seems archaic and so 20th Century. Yes, there should be archival copies of everything on the web, a real live hard copy, but not thousands to end up in land fills. A good Kindle 2 or iPhone now does just as well.
Coming from a large print background, I'm just as nostalgic as the rest. Long before Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak innovated the print world with their Macintosh computer and programs from Adobe and Quark changed production forever, I used a Compugraphic Editwriter 7500 to typeset newspapers and magazines. I shot film separations, CMYK, because every photo in every printed piece had to first be converted to a dot pattern (halftone) and the colors separated out for printing in Cyan, Magenta Yellow and Black. I remember how strippers (no, not those) were up in arms in print shops when scanners came about; instead of shooting a piece of film from a photo and then stripping it in to the actual layout or paste up to then be reshot as a plate, the graphic artist could now simply scan an image in and place it on the page, and print out a composed plate, one for each color, already separated out. And then soon, plating and those who did it disappeared and computers that output directly to press showed up. Now, it seems, computers are getting rid of the press (wasn't that the goal way back when?)
I shot my first Grammy Awards in 1980, using a 35mm Vivitar camera my parents had bought at Gemco (which became The Treasure and then Target) the day before the awards with their government disability money. I had just turned 18 and graduated. It started me on a path where a camera would always be a part of my life. In 1999 Olympus sent me one of their first digital cameras, a wholloping 2.0 megapixels with a 1.25" lcd preview. I knew at that moment to sell any shares of Kodak stock because film was about to go away. It took a decade, but it's all but gone, its look easily recreatable in Photoshop, Aperture, iPhoto or any of a hosts of programs. And photography has expanded, gone on, not gone away. Prints are all but gone as well, with digital photo frames and computer slide shows showing on 50" plasma TVs that now replace their 21" tube ancestors.
I shot my first music video on 16mm film and camera, paid huge amounts to have it processed, color corrected and then edited, on a huge machine called an Avid with not one, but two striped (meaning working together) 16 megabyte drives. I burned the file on a $10 blank CD and burned it on a $800 Pinnacle Micro CD Burner (one of the first). Now, I shoot on a Sony XDcam, no tape at all, High Def. My first video took days to complete. I shot one for the opening of my stage show in December that took one hour to film, three to edit, and about 10 minutes to burn the DVD and print a label and cover. Fifty people in between me and finished product have been removed because of FinalCut Pro, digital video and now even web distribution. Not one dollar spent on film copies or other such traditional expenses.
On and on I could go. I recorded my first album on a 16 track in studios throughout Los Angeles that cost Jellybean Benitez and myself (I was signed to his label for a while then to my own) thousands and thousands of dollars; tens of thousands. Now, I can record an album in ProTools or Logic Pro at my home studio, where I also do my radio show by the way for almost nothing. Or I can take my show to Ireland each year thanks to my friends at Custom Ireland, and each year all I do is plug one small box in to one digital phone line, or Ethernet internet connection, and my show sounds like I'm in my studios in America instead of a Pub, no satellite trucks, boxes of broadcast equipment, sound processors...nothing but a few things that easily fit in a carry-on.
My first book was written in Microsoft Word and transmitted via email in PDF format to my publisher. who then printed thousands of copies and sent them all over the country and world in trucks. My new book won't even be printed unless somebody orders it traditionally, as it will be print-on-demand or digital download; and my one man show the same, order the DVD and the company makes it right then, or just download the video or rent the stream. No more reams of paper spent proofing, postage back and forth or books to one day end up in the recycle bin.
I couldn't get writers at the time to write for my site, 10 years ago, nor over the last 10 years could I interest advertisers in it. Until the rest of the world caught on. Like every change mentioned, they happened when the rest of the world caught on to technology others had been using for some time. And when they did, technology changed.
Newspapers are in some way sacred, and I say why? I don't mean their staffs, their writers or photographers, I mean the actual paper. It's old and useless, like the eight track tape. My daily paper should have sent me a paper thin paper-like substance bound in to some sort of magazine type reader years ago. Every morning a radio signal could have been sent to all subscribers and new pages, new interactive ads, new everything could have been on my table top next to breakfast. Special bulletins. On and on. But no. The computer became that portal to that information, and now that more and more are using the computer for news, paper becomes obsolete and expensive.
Wasn't that the goal? Why are you leaders in free thinking so surprised?
Remember the goal of the paperless office that never came to be because each software package came or comes with one disc of software and 50 pounds of manuals? Well, now we move one step closer.
But what of the newspaper's ability to compete with each other? To break stories? To be hard hitting?
Well, I write for the HuffingtonPost.com and trust me, plenty of stuff breaks at it. Matt Drudge and I are friends, and trust me, many things have broken on his website. In fact, when's the last time a story was broken in the printed media and not on the web in this instant age? No, the world will still need great journalists. Tell me CNN doesn't want more web visits than MSNBC and so they design information to keep people coming back. Tell me The New York Times wouldn't rather know how many people are actually reading what each day? Now you can tell an advertiser actually who is seeing their ads, even incorporate them in to the stories via links, etc. Where's the downside?
The problem today is monetizing it. And again, that's the fault of the newspapers and their owners. There are ways. People make money on the web. People on the cutting edge. Trust me, I've seen Drudge's house. Arianna is the digital maven of the 21st Century. And more people are watching TV online now than ever before (our TV and computers are about to merge, as TV manufacturers simply produce monitors in future).
In fact, isn't that who survives? Not the Big 3 Auto makers, the cutting edge people like Tata Motors and their $2000 car? Companies that give consumers what they want and need in a way they want and need it.
I am a writer. I write for whomever I can, not caring about the medium in which it is delivered. The same with radio. You want to stream my show over the web, feel free, bypass a radio all together. You want to podcast it, that's fine to. Or listen live. All on you. Foneshow, even (a way to hear it on one's cell). I've made all those avenues available for years, when my stations would not support me or even help. I began taking text messages as soon as cells sent them on my show, reading emails, having video webcams, long before it was normal. Radio stations never cared about their websites, from 1999 to 2004 they treated them like "throw away" promotional tools understaffed and usually updated by interns. Now, they are one of the few departments that remain at stations.
Instead of bemoaning the death of traditional newspapers and magazines go out and invent some new way to get your information to the people in a profitable way. The quill gave way to the fountain pen, which gave way to hot type and Xerox and on and on. Information has always gotten out. It always will. Just in new ways.
And if the internet comes down, is bought up by only five men, power turned off and the informational apocalypse realized, we still have our minds, our voices and cave walls. Mr. Guttenberg's technology will still be around, being used for something some where. When all else fails, the military still teaches Morse code for a reason.
Mediums change. Human's thirst for information never does. There's always a need, find a new way to fill it.