CommunityFDL Main Blog

Late Night: Killing Print on Purpose

{!hitembed ID=”hitembed_1″ width=”300″ height=”225″ align=”right” !}

It took 10 years but people are finally starting to talk about it honestly: 

Then, this week, Paton blamed the continuing budget problems on pensions – on the very employees doing the work in the field every day – the very employees who hear complaints in the community about how “this used to be such a great newspaper – it’s so thin now, there’s nothing worth reading in it – the online version is so buried under popups and other glitzy ads that you can’t even find the news anymore and it’s just not worth bothering.” This, we heard in the community.

In the office, our technology was so slow and awful we couldn’t perform basic functions – including loading those very same clunky news pages so we could update the copy with breaking news and information. We watched as the company poured what could have been salary money into remodeling or relocating offices. One property that had been moved out of downtown was relocated back into the downtown. Another property, which was too far for anyone to walk to, was remodeled to make room for community media labs and community engagement efforts.

I always scream about this every time I go to some stupid seminar about the “future of journalism” and people are boring on about iPhone apps and digital subscriptions and new paradigms and shit. I will never understand giving up on something that works just because something else works, too. Why not do all of it? Why not have a great paper and a great web site and great mobile apps and great visuals and video and great everything? Why this rush to declare one thing over? Why pull the plug when the patient isn’t even in a coma?

Part of my affection for print is tradition, of course, and the inherent bias that comes from having made it my primary medium for the early part of my career. But part of it is that the way things are now, the cost of technology being what it is, it is still the easiest and most democratic way to get news to the largest group of people.

Note I didn’t say it was the least expensive way. Just that, the digital divide being what it is, it’s the most broad.

Many people are fleeing print because digital is more convenient for them, and I have zero quarrel with them. I have a smartphone and it’s my small friend. I browse headlines and read Twitter on it and such. I get text alerts.

But many others are fleeing print because print has deliberately driven them away. Capricious delivery and distribution schedules, removal/downsizing of features and personalities that once made the print product attractive, a mercenary focus on sleepy bedroom suburbs at the expense of more diverse lower-income communities, and an allergy to listening to the very communities newspapers purport to serve told those communities that the paper didn’t care about them any more.

Is it any real surprise, then, that the communities believe it?

It’s not a bad racket, really: Drive people away from expensive (though profitable) print, declare that people have left print, kill off print because people have left it, and above all, make sure your employees get mad at bloggers and college kids and young reporters who are taking over their jobs, because you can’t have them turn the bullshit detectors for which you specifically hired them onto management. It’s not a bad racket at all.

If you’re in this for a racket, that is. If you’re in this to do journalism, it’s one of the seven hells.


Previous post

Tommy v Tammy: The Gay-Bashing Begins in Wisconsin

Next post

Chicago Teacher on Why He's Striking Against Rahm Emanuel's Pro-Business Education Agenda

Allison Hantschel

Allison Hantschel

Allison Hantschel is a 10-year veteran of the newspaper business. She publishes First Draft, a writing and politics blog, with her partners Holden, Jude and Scout. She is the author of the books Chicago's Historic Irish Pubs (2011, Arcadia Publishing, with Mike Danahey) and It Doesn’t End With Us: The Story of the Daily Cardinal, about a great liberal journalism institution (2007, Heritage Books). She also edited the anthology “Special Plans: The Blogs on Douglas Feith and the Faulty Intelligence That Led to War” (2005, William, James & Co.) Her work has appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the Daily Southtown, Sirens Magazine, and Alternet. She lives in Chicago with her husband, two ferrets, and approximately 60 tons of books.