Is the death of the newspaper REALLY that bad?


Today, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer folds, and not in the way it's always folded (a tired joke in the newspaper industry, I'm sure). It will be an online-only publication from now on.

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune had to file for bankruptcy earlier this year. Locally, the Capital Times was pared down into a shadow of its former self. The LaCrosse Tribune and now the Wisconsin State Journal have both switched to narrow, thinner editions.

I write for a paper (had you heard? was my self-promotion not loud enough? if not, please check out the links in the upper-right hand corner of this page); I don't want the journalism industry to fail. I don't want blogger schmoes (ahem) and 24-hour cable news to be the sole purveyors of what's happening in the world. They've got tinted glasses that I don't have an interest in looking through.

So I ask this question with all the necessary sensitivity and self-interest: is it that bad if newspapers stop being newspapers?

There's the comic analysis that would tell you that there's no futuristic movie or TV show that shows people reading newspapers. They've all got tablet computers or holographic heads-up displays in their self-piloted Tom Cruise-mobiles. But why shouldn't that be a goal?

Yeah, print is nice. I'm a librarian. I know that sooner or later, I'll be the guy reciting "First they came...", and books will turn into an electronic medium only. Hello, Kindle 2.0?

Isn't that just nostalgia, though? Don't you think people said that telephone would be infinitely worse than telegraph? Touch-tone phones worse than rotary dial? Ashley Tisdale's new nose worse than her old one? You bet they did! (gotta move on past the HSM reference) But I'm sure I'm not alone in not wishing for a return to waiting 5 seconds to dial the first 1 after the 9 in 911.

Less paper will be used. You can't really argue with that. I'd like to think that bailing out the newspapers would be a better expenditure of money than bailing out the internal combustion engine industry, but the fact remains that cars maintain relevance. Newspapers...well, newspapers have been much less than relevant in recent years. Even the relevant ones publish their content online almost simultaneously with the print edition.

My sticking points are A) the loss of jobs, and B) the threat this decline poses to journalism at large. Maybe that's the bailout I want; save the jobs of good journalists around the country, so that people can continue to have solid knowledge and updates on the real world at their fingertips.

Even if their fingertips stay clean in the process. I was a paperboy too, you know, and I hated newsprint.