I feel that anguished sense of desolation that inevitably accompanies news that an aging relative is on her deathbed.
Old, infirm and hopelessly behind the times, the gray lady’s moment has arrived. The stale scent of death has already set in. And yet, I cannot help but resent the loss of so rich a life. Overcome with chagrin, I throw up my arms and plead frantically to the heavens. I dream of miracles.
In my case, the doctor’s prognosis is four months. four months! I should lie down and weep.
You should too.
Over winter break, an article by Michael Hirschorn in The Atlantic predicted that The New York Times will fold in May. With more than $1 billion of debt already accrued, cash reserves reduced to a mere $46 million and circulation continuously dropping, The Times’ days may well be numbered.
“At some point soon — sooner than most of us think — the print edition, and with it The Times as we know it, will no longer exist.”
[Dearly beloved: Today, we join together to mourn a publication’s passing.]
What’s going on here?
In light of the dire economic climate, this is hardly surprising. When businesses suffer, they advertise less. And publications, whose revenues depend on advertisement sales, pay the price. The problem is compounded as more readers stop paying for subscriptions, instead opting for a free web content.
But unlike the crumbing financial sector, the media can’t count on holy deliverance in the form of a bulky Barack-backed bailout.
And The Times sure will have some impressive graveside neighbors. Tribune Co., owner of news staples like The Chicago Tribune and The Los Angeles Times, has filed for bankruptcy. Newspapers like The New York Sun have already vaporized.
Tough times got you hankering after cheap thrills?
Even Playgirl, the foul-mouthed sister of Playboy, is feeling the crunch. The magazine has shut down its print edition and will focus on a scaled-back website.
“Details of [Playgirl’s] site’s look are scarce,” Mediabistro reports. “But it will feature more videos and pictorials and less editorial content.”
Is an image worth a thousand words?
Print media is dead. Long live print media.
[It is hard for me to express what she meant to us all. She spoke to each and every one of us in a different way.]
OK. But some of us don’t mind giving up the feel of newsprint, the sound of crinkling pages, the oh-so-familiar look of fingers blackened with printer ink. So let’s just set NYTimes.com as our homepage and call it a day!
It’s not quite that simple. The print version of The Times has 1 million readers. The website boasts 20 million unique users. But, from a financial standpoint, the 1 is worth more than the 20. If The Times switched to exclusively digital distribution, it would have to dismiss all but 20 percent of its current staff.
So what are we left with?
Masturbation! Quick and easy.
That’s what a journalist I spoke to a few weeks ago said when I asked her how she felt about the emerging “blogosphere.”
Blogging is masturbation. It’s regurgitation. It’s shit.
News offices everywhere are being replaced with a spattering of amateur bloggers. I’m sure you’ve read your fair share of asinine art blogs, vapid “culture commentary” and insipid political parlance. The blogosphere accommodates a whole host of nonsensical jabberwocky.
Your best friend may even have a blogspot.com locale of his own in which he records his everyday observations about the weather, or updates us on the status of his New Year’s resolutions, or agonizes over what it means to be post-modern (and whether the “post-modern” classification is even a valid reference point for deliberation …).
Blogs have their place. But with no standards for accuracy or safeguards for accountability, their utility is hampered.
[The New York Times was a mother, a sister, a friend and a lover. She taught us so much. Her life was an example to all around her.]
But it’s not just the big bad blogger we have to fear.
As the news market shrinks, we should count on cutbacks in quality. And the first victim will be … the rest of the world.
A recent article in The New Republic mourns the death of “the foreign correspondent.” Around the country, papers are packing up their foreign bureaus. Only one in four U.S. newspapers even has an international desk devoted to foreign coverage.
Does now really seem like a time when we can afford to know less about what’s going on around us?
[She was brave to the end. She stayed strong for us … because she loved us.]
We need to care about the journalist’s fate. Just as the financial sector’s biggest earners were forced out, the media’s most seasoned veterans are losing their jobs. Meanwhile, whole cohorts of would-be journalists are running away as fast as their scraggly, non-athletic legs will carry them.
Two of The Cornell Daily Sun’s top three editors are going to law school next year.
Although I cannot attest to the athletic condition of their legs.
But every reader will have to be smarter.
After the financial meltdown, investors vowed, “Never Again!” They promised they would be vigilant. They swore they would know more about where and how their money was being invested.
In the same way, as mainstream newspapers fall, we won’t be able to rely on the breadth and accuracy of a single source. We’re going to have to read broadly. That means we will need to know something about the journalists we’re following and the sources they’re using.
And so we get to the real crux: What does this mean for Katie Engelhart?
In The Atlantic, Hirschorn writes: “The collapse of daily print journalism will mean … the end of a certain kind of quasi-bohemian urban existence for the thousands of smart middle-class writers, journalists and public intellectuals who have, until now, lived semi-charmed kinds of lives of the mind.”
This does not bode well for me. How am I supposed to be pretend to be Times columnist Maureen Dowd if print media is dead?
Maureen, I love you. But there’s only room for one trench-coat wearing redhead in this here town.
[I think in her own way, she let us know how much we meant to her. We won’t see her again. But her memory will live on in the moments we shared. Sweet, sweet moments ...]
Should I end by lamenting the death of the mainstream press, one of our best bulwarks of democracy? Should I bemoan this great paradigmatic shift from old to new media?
At the height of my agony, my father offers his consolation: “If there are no more newspapers, what will people line their birdcages with?”
Our last great bastion of intellectual thought? Insurance against falling bird shit?
In any event, The Times, they are a’changing.