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The establishment press is headed the way of the dinosaurs.
Reading the newspaper trade journals today is like reading the
newsletter of the hospital’s intensive care ward.
Everybody knows something is wrong, but every newspaper doctor has a
different prescription. In my humble opinion, as a veteran of the
business for 20 years, none of them have a clue.
Writing in the most recent issue of Editor & Publisher, Bruce
Krasnow, city editor of the New Mexican in Santa Fe and a journalism
instructor, says: “There are some terrific writers in the journalism
class I teach at a local college. But for some reason, writing for a
newspaper is not on their list of career objectives.”
Incredible! Less than 10 years ago, there were hundreds of applicants
for every entry-level job at major metropolitan papers and plenty for
papers in smaller markets, too, as young journalists fought for any way
in the door of what was the most exciting business in the world.
Today, there’s still competition, but it has more to do with the
contracting number of jobs and the dwindling number of competitive
newspaper markets. Morale in big-city newsrooms is more in tune with
what you would expect in a funeral home than what we recall from the
days of “The Front Page” or “All the President’s Men.”
“Any editor who has tried to fill an editorial opening knows the
reality: Newspapers and those who edit them are no longer sexy,” writes
Krasnow. “The Watergate era, which brought the profession into the
public spotlight and helped inspire energetic young reporters, is long
gone, replaced by C-Span and CNN images of a stodgy, aging Washington
press corps whose reporters bicker among themselves to fill air time.”
Krasnow continues: “Students in their 20s weren’t even born when
President Nixon resigned in 1974. Now, Lou Grant, and even Murphy Brown,
have given way to Matt Drudge and personal home pages. Newspapers are no
longer seen as agents of social change, and even if they were, college
students don’t see that as an attraction.”
What seems like bad news — even terminal, perhaps — to the
establishment press types is actually a sign of hope. We’re witnessing a
media revolution. I don’t think you can fully appreciate the depths
of it, the scale of it, the beauty of it, unless you have been in both
worlds as I have been.
Millions of people across the United States and around the world
simply don’t get their news the way they once did. Sure, they may tune
in to the television ever so casually to hear what Tom Brokaw or Dan
Rather or Bernard Shaw has to say, but the networks — even the
relatively new ones like CNN — don’t pack the same punch.
The Internet is where it’s at for the future. It’s growing faster
than TV did in its heyday. But it is far more interactive, entertaining
But Marshall McLuhan didn’t get it quite right. It’s not the medium
that is the message. The message is the message. People want real
information. They hunger for it. People are realizing that they have
been controlled for too long. The Internet gives them far more choices
— not all good, but choices nonetheless.
I can see where this is all leading. The journalism schools and the
major foundations have been trying to reinvent the press for the last
decade. They have wanted to figure out a new winning formula that could
pacify the restless public. They gave it their best shot. It was called
“civic journalism.” And it didn’t go anywhere.
The hope was that the press could dress up essentially the same thing
they’ve been doing with a new name and the public would be satisfied. It
I’ll tell you why. The public does want real “civic journalism.” But
that’s not what the Pew Foundation and others have delivered with all
their experiments. Real civic journalism is what got the industry and
the public excited 26 years ago following Watergate. It was the idea of
investigative reporting into government fraud, waste, abuse and
corruption. It was the old-fashioned idea that the press’ central role
in a free society is to serve as a watchdog of government. That’s what
real civic journalism is.
And that is exactly what is attracting so much attention, so much
excitement and so much hope on in the “new media” today.