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Ed Driscoll

“It’s Odd To Cover Your Own Funeral”

March 16th, 2009 - 11:21 pm

A few years ago, I noted how politicized Sports Illustrated had become, turning what was once an escape from the news and politics of the day into just another front in the culture wars. (Follow the links here for the flashbacks, which include–shocker!–at least a couple of Sports Illustrated columnists essentially wishing failure in the War On Terror upon President Bush.) Today, SI’s Peter King is quoted as writing:

“Thanks, Ann Coulter, for reveling in the decline of the liberal newspapers,” King wrote. “Nice of you to be making the great money you obviously make while hard-working reporters and editors and photographers — from liberal and conservative papers alike — are being put on the street every day. This is a crisis without ideological fault lines, sister. And the New York Times isn’t going anywhere.”

Well, except for being further diluted in monopolistic influence and further down the NYSE. And it actually is a crisis with some rather prominent ideological fault lines. It was during the bitter end of their long run of journalistic exclusivity that the legacy media were so smug and dismissive to those who would supplant their monopoly. To set the scene, here’s a quote from David Gelernter just before the lights started going off in old media:

“Today’s elite loathes the public. Nothing personal, just a fundamental difference in world view, but the hatred is unmistakable. Occasionally it escapes in scorching geysers. Michael Lewis reports in the New Republic on the ‘96 Dole presidential campaign: ‘The crowd flips the finger at the busloads of journalists and chant rude things at them as they enter each arena. The journalists, for their part, wear buttons that say ‘yeah, i’m the Media. Screw You.’ The crowd hates the reporters, the reporters hate the crowd– an even matchup, except that the reporters wield power and the crowed (in effect) wields none.”

But they would soon enough–and the transition had already begun by 1996, as Will Collier wrote earlier today:

Unless you have a monopoly, you can’t get away with sneering at your customers for very long. The newspaper’s monopoly died in 1995, when the internet brought information to the fingertips of anybody with a modem. The dinosaur media never understood that they were in a tar pit from that moment on, and now it’s too late for them to change their ways and crawl back out.

Which is why King is so defensive, and why a Financial Times article today on the death of newspapers begins with this lede, which sounds a bit like a horse and buggy manufacturer seeing his first automobile, in the way it begins with the death of a newspaper, and concludes with a reference to one of the myriad successor technologies:

The death of a modern newspaper is a real-time, multimedia event. When journalists on the Rocky Mountain News were summoned to their Denver newsroom on February 26 to be told they were working on their final edition, they relayed the announcement through live blogs, online videos, slide shows of tearful colleagues and a minute-by-minute stream of updates on Twitter. “It’s odd to cover your own funeral,” read one tweet.

And no, Twitter alone obviously isn’t going to replace newspapers–but it does a pretty awesome of breaking news remarkably fast–for which you can get the details as they emerge online from other sources.

But then, as Steve Green wrote today, much of the dinosaur media is still moving at a Pangea-like pace:

Via Jay Rosen on Twitter, comes an unintentionally revealing news item about the new, all-digital Seattle P-I:

Hearst said it will maintain seattlepi.com, making it the nation’s largest daily paper to shift to an entirely digital news product. “Tonight we’ll be putting the paper to bed for the last time,” editor and publisher Roger Oglesby told a silent newsroom Monday morning.

Television news quit sleeping with the launch of CNN almost 30 years ago. Print journalism never figured out how to respond effectively to that. And failed even more miserably when it gained the same kind of technological insomnia when the web became both practical and widespread.

Anyone still thinking of “putting the paper to bed” in 2009 is at least ten years late to the party — in an age where business mistakes get punished almost immediately.

Wake up, fellas.

Good luck with that! The arrival of first Matt Drudge onto the national scene in 1998, and then the Blogosphere a few years later signaled a seachange in how readers would get their news. In response, elite journalists would have been far better off admitting that they disagreed the (almost always openly admitted) biases of Drudge and the bloggers, but were curious about the technology behind them, and what it said about how readers would get their news. Instead, readers were treated to a series of reactionary attacks upon those ushering in what would be a series of sucessor forms. Many of whom started off as being simultaneously the mosted devoted and most frustrated readers of their local newspaper.

So while I have more mixed emotionsabout the death of newspapers than Ann’s schadenfreude, I certainly understand where such emotions are coming from.

Related: “Don’t worry, Mark. I won’t put any of those controversial things you said in the paper.”

More: Tim Blair goes for broke.

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