Saturday, February 19, 2011

Dinosaur thinkers, ink print lovers, arrogant 4th-estate fraternity brothers, this hatred's for you, or, Why people hate newspapers and love the Web

People hate newspapers.

That's how it seems to some of us who have loved them.

I've been thinking a lot about this lately with funding challenged for our university magazine and budget cuts always in the air. I've been reading posts on the list-serve from folks in my journalism education interest group who are losing print editions of magazines and cutting back the frequency of their newspapers -- or losing them altogether.

The chatter I hear everywhere hurts, actually. From the speaker who is addressing what he thinks is an exclusive group of sportswriting bloggers who gloats over the loss of one city's daily paper while the editor who lost his job in that debacle sits quietly in the audience, to the folks who barely know me who send me every article ever written -- seemingly within minutes of its publication -- about another newspaper going down... I've come to the conclusion people hate newspapers.

They hate newspapers now, and they have always hated newspapers. From the guys who fix my car to some of my academic colleagues, they hate newspapers.

How else to understand their joy?

OK, take that as a challenge. How DO we understand their joy? Here are some possibilities:

  1. They hate being late to the party. This is especially true of some academics who are ultra-sensitive to the charge of being out of touch... because, frankly, they often are. To make up for the fact that their concerns are often deeper and older than the immediate concerns of the breakfast table, they make a special effort -- sometimes self-defeating -- to always catch the wave... which they never do. So, they are always on the back side of the wave, calling it the front side and defending it to the death even after it has run ashore.
  2. They have always seen journalism as a fraternity to which they did not belong. I think this may be the most important reason. Newspapers and their journalists have always held power. Lots of power. But nobody there got elected. Nobody there was super-human. No six-foot-eight, three-hundred-pound athletes or Nat King Cole-throated singer. People just like you and me who are doing what anybody could do... except for the fact they endured four years of journalism education to be allowed into the fraternity. You hear this especially among those who advocate for blogging. Now, they say, anybody can be a journalist. It is, indeed, a democratic notion.
  3. Newspaper people, in doing their jobs -- sometimes carelessly -- have hurt them, their family, one of their friends, their political party, their race, their town, their hometown football team. Payback is a bitch, isn't it?
  4. They want to be witness to time. It seems to me that much of the glee is similar to the glee we all feel on New Year's Eve. We're witness to the old year passing away and the new year arriving. It's a powerful human emotion. We were there. We saw.
  5. It's a good thing the First Amendment doesn't come up for a vote anytime soon.

I started by saying it hurts to suddenly realize people hate what you love. But, to be honest, I have to add this love is not unconditional. Like a lot of journalism teachers, I got into teaching because I did not like what was happening in the profession and I wanted to help, in some small way, straighten it out. I didn't hate newspapers or hate journalism, but I sure as hell wanted to fix some of the things I disliked about both. Across a quarter-century of teaching, that desire has been my north star.

Unfortunately, this tectonic plate shift in the technology of newspapers and magazines is not a paradigm shift in how they actually report the news or serve the community. So, the problems I so disliked are still around, Web or ink.

It helps me to understand my visceral reaction to the glee so many people seem to take in the demise of dinosaur thinking, as they like to call it. From now on, I'll try not to take it personal. Bogart said that, I think, just before he pistol whipped a thug who was tailing him.


This wonderful image courtesy The Great Illuminator. I find their opinion about newspapers exactly what I've described here; I don't share their concern about making newspapers eligible to be non-profits because I'm sure they will always be -- regrettably -- for profit; but I love their choice of artwork...