I’ll tell you what: I’m getting tired of all these sob stories about newspapers shutting down. Not that I have anything against newspapers, which until recently afforded me a life of unimaginable luxury. But I cringe at the poignant and somewhat accusatory tone of stories bemoaning the demise of yet another big-city rag. You’ll all be sorry when we’re gone, they say; you won’t have the Daily Bugle to kick around any more. And beware: If you don’t have a newspaper, you don’t have a democracy. Who’ll afflict the comfortable without the Bugle’s crack investigative team sniffing out corruption?
Then again, the investigative thing and the corruption thing kind of fell by the wayside over the last decade or so. Surveys revealed that what readers really wanted were anecdotal trend stories, whimsical lifestyle pieces and 20-minute recipes. So newspapers went that route, realizing too late that the readers who answered the survey were already getting all that crap online. And the reason they were was because the Bugle and its brethren were putting all that crap online. Absolutely free. But they all reasoned that you’d continue to pay for the print product because it’s good for democracy.
I sometimes wonder where the industry would be today if all the big players had conspired, sometime in the late ’90s, to boycott the Internet. In court, probably. But in retrospect, it might have been worth a try. It might have bought some time. I might still have a job. As it happened, the tipping point arrived about a year ago. In another year … who knows? I have a few friends still working in newsrooms, and I hate to write anything that will make their lives even more miserable. But a year from now, I doubt many will still be feeling that slight tremor, nearing midnight, that meant the presses were starting and the next day’s paper was on its way, with all its flashes of genius and avoidable errors. Talk about poignance: For me, that tremor also meant the end of another shift.
Now, of course, all the shifts are ending. Just a matter of time, which marches on. Let’s not get weepy about it. Let’s not pretend that something precious is going away. If it were truly precious, people would want it. It appears they don’t.
Adios, Bugle. Don’t let the screen door hit you on the way out. If there is anything indispensable about newspapers, let’s see what arises to fill the void. For now, about all we can do is pray it’s not Twitter.