It’s Hard to Be Objective When Newspapers Die

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By: Dan Close

Journalists are taught to be detached observers who chronicle the misfortunes of others. They report on our wars, our stock market crashes, our loss of faith and the senseless deaths of our children.

But like the death of a child, it?s hard to be objective about the death of a newspaper.

They pulled the plug on the Rocky Mountain News last month, and it hit a lot of newspaper folks hard in the gut.

You didn?t have to be in the newsroom that day in Denver to feel the trauma of 150 years of fine journalism and public service vanish overnight. You could experience it online, ironically, watching the paper?s Web site churn out compelling columns, video stories and historical reflections on the town and its longtime storyteller.

The newspaper wrote its own obituary. But a few weeks later, the Web site is still there, unchanged, frozen like a ghost town on a computer screen. Generations who had spent their lives to make the paper come alive were already scattering to the winds. Another one bites the dust.

It?s easy — and accurate — to blame the economic downturn for the loss of ad revenue that is sounding the death knell for newspapers. Huge profits demanded by Wall Street investors have forced newspaper chains to sell their papers. Critics cite management practices that have relied too long on stodgy business models.

Others point out that newspaper readers are literally a dying breed. The subscriber base is getting older and papers for decades have failed to attract younger readers who now are more content to get their news from television, their entertainment from iPods and their social life from Facebook.

Those and many more factors have contributed to massive staff layoffs nationwide (roughly 5,600 this year alone, according to one Web site), the shuttering of newspapers and the downsizing of publications. The decision by The Christian Science Monitor to cease most of its print editions is another critical loss. The 100-year-old Monitor would ?become the first nationally circulated newspaper to replace its daily print edition with its Web site? the publication stated ? on its Web site.

The prospects for newspapers are grim. There is no job market for print journalists. There is no way to recoup the huge losses. There seems to be no way to stem the tsunami of failure that newspapers are experiencing.

Once gone, we will never get the printed newspaper back. Lost will be the plop of the paper missing the porch and landing in the rose bush, the tangible feel of holding a newspaper at the breakfast table and listening to the pages rustle as they are turned, the memory of reading smudgy black ink from pulp newsprint instead of from a coldly glowing Kindle tablet.

Although papers may not survive, journalism must. The traditions of objectivity, fairness, balance and truthfulness that are the hallmarks of excellent newspapering must survive ? even if it means it must survive in another form.

The buzzword for decades has been convergence, the concept that journalism can retain a major role in responsibly gate-keeping and shaping media content, while being distributed in more technologically savvy ways. We have many of those means at our disposal (consider the multi-tasking capabilities of cell phones, video gaming systems and the Internet alone), but more effective and cheaper cross-platform devices remain undiscovered.

Convergence is a concept that newspapers have been slow, even obstinate, to embrace. When you have been making the same product for centuries, it?s hard to change. When you have been a journalist half your life, it?s just as hard.

Being a newspaper reporter was all I ever wanted to be. And though I now teach journalism more than I practice it, it has meant everything to me.

My mother and I remember when as a 4-year-old I went missing for hours, only to be found watching firefighters dousing a blaze. My explanation: ?But I had to write a story about it.?

There was the struggle to learn the rudiments of interviewing and fact-checking while working at the high school paper, walking out of a college newspaper on a crisp fall Sunday evening with that first Page One byline tucked under an arm, long days and nights covering endless meetings and producing features for small town newspapers, the confusion of covering politics and the legislature for a slightly larger paper. Then working for The Big City Paper, where everything from plane crashes to presidential visits was my everyday lot in life.

It was worth it all and I miss it terribly. The people I covered. The people I worked with. The sense of being part of something historic and important and life-changing for so many people.

The people in Denver miss it.

So forgive me for taking this all personally.

And if ? God forbid ? the day comes with Wichita loses its newspaper, I hope I am not here to witness it. Especially if the news is delivered on Twitter.

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