Thursday, January 04, 2007

Phila Inquirer- Message is the Medium

"News, far more than art, is artifact." Marshall McLuhan

The continuing shake-up at the Philadelphia Inquirer, including the layoffs Tuesday of 68 newsroom employees, has become something of a local saga. Newspaper business models nationwide might be in trouble, but loyal readers don't care about ad sales when their favorite columnists are given the ax.

Dan Rubin of the Inkie's blog, Blinq, has written a tough story with his usual style and grace. And his readers are responding with comments in record numbers.

As I scroll through the comments--number and passion usually reserved for a hot sports story--and though the subject is agonizing, I am somehow heartened ... at least people are still reading the Inquirer and other newspapers.

Obviously people are reading Blinq. Clearly all have strong opinions, most on the value to the community of good local newspapers. I couldn't agree more.

But the reality is that the Internet has changed the world. Commerce. Society. Business. Education. Health. Religion. Entertainment. Everything. Including Mass Media. Especially Mass Media.

Anyone who continues to bang his head against the wall of that solid truth will reap nothing but a headache. And a spot at the back of the professional line.

Believe me, I know. I've played a small role in the online revolution, I've made my living online since the early 90's. I'm comfortable seeking information and services here. Yet I wake up every morning of my life and reach for the paper--at home, The Philadelphia Inquirer--to read with my coffee.

If I'm traveling, no matter where I am I start my day with a newspaper -- the New York Times, the LA Times, the Florida Sentinel, the Jerusalem Post. I can't imagine doing without that ritual.

I've written about earlier layoffs at the Inquirer. I can't conceive of a world without print journalism. Yet I fear that day is coming, sooner rather than later.

It used to be axiomatic that print journalists kept the rest of the media honest. And on their toes. Newspaper people were the Real Deal, they were news and feature and opinion Writers, not TelePrompTer Readers.

Print reporters used shoe leather, not hairspray. They had sources, did their homework, dug deep, covered every angle, gave us the background, the flavor, the essence of a story.

Whether florid or pithy, they gave us word pictures, descriptions, nuances, details. They Investigated. And they Reported. They still do. And especially at the local level, many do it superbly.

But television and the Internet have conditioned us to expect our news immediately. Not merely "hot off the press" but "live, on your cell phone!" We don't take time any more for nuance and detail, we want speed and sensation. Our attention spans barely last through a one-minute YouTube video, forget about a four-column feature story.

And it seems we don't want thoughtful reporters, we want sexy anchor-stars. We don't want genuine news, we want infotainment. The Donald and Rosie feud has more news currency these days than the incoming Democratic Congress.

But according to the suits at the Inquirer, they're planning to ramp up local and regional news coverage -- particularly on the Web. will get a facelift and more face time in the community.

Bill Marimow and company are seasoned, credentialed journalists, but it's clear they grok the message of the Internet medium. Though it's sad to hear them talk of "online ad revenues" instead of future Pulitzers, at least--for now--the Philadelphia Inquirer is still in business. And in print.

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Anonymous Another Casualty said...

Very good points in your post on the Inquirer yesterday. The demand for shallow news does seem to be at an all-time high right now, but I'm still holding out hope this is a phase which will, while hurting the newspaper industry, just be a short term trend as we all adjust to the Internet permeating everything we see or do. At the same time, newspapers have not done nearly enough to grab young readers in the past decade and it is biting them in the butt more than they could have imagined.

At one time it was just natural for them to grow up and buy papers when they matured, but they took that for granted too long, not realizing they were going to eventually lose a generation.

Fading to Black>

11:42 AM  

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