Howard Kurtz wrote an article in today’s Washington Post lamenting the recent layoffs in the newspaper industry (Post Buyouts Come With an Emotional Cost, May 26, 2008). In any company in any industry, it is sad to consider the ramifications of layoffs and downsizing. These are our friends and colleagues, people we respect, admire, and enjoy. I’ve been there, trust me. But, Kurtz writes as if to say “you’ll be sorry.” “If people want to tune out the news, no one can compel them to change their habits. We can be smarter, faster and jazzier in providing information, but we can’t force-feed the stuff. If newspapers wither and die, it will be in part because the next generation blew us off in favor of Xbox and Wii and full-length movies on their iPods.” Basically, those who abandoned newspapers for Wii and Xbox and YouTube will get everything they have coming to them when they wake up one day uninformed.
Kurtz writes “There isn’t a Web site around that can produce the probing work, such as the exposé of shoddy conditions at the Army’s Walter Reed Medical Center, that won The Post six Pulitzer Prizes this year.” Yes there is. It’s WashingtonPost.com . Granted, Web publications haven’t quite figured out the revenue model yet, but they will. The Web offers so many efficiencies and economies of scale in terms of production and distribution, and with the millions of eyeballs out there as potential users, don’t tell me there is no way to make money other than to charge 50 cents per paper. People want information. That is clear. They just want information that is interesting and relevant and delivered to them most efficiently. It is much easier for me to get up, turn on my computer, and read 50 RSS feeds than it is for me to subscribe to 50 papers or go down to the corner newsstand and read everything there. Plus I get opinion, diversity, and an opportunity to engage. I’m the customer, meet my needs. Granted, I then have the responsibility of becoming media literate, but that’s nothing new. Remember, “don’t believe everything you read or hear on TV.”
It’s like saying please drive our cars from NY to LA because we in the auto industry are good, hard-working people, and we matter. Don’t abandon us for those new-fangled airplanes just because they can get you there faster.
The Post’s new publisher Katharine Weymouth says “The ways in which we break news and tell stories will continue to evolve and change as technology and readers’ habits evolve and change. The challenge is at once daunting and thrilling: reinventing the newspaper — in some senses, the news itself — for a new century.” Just like any other industry faced with increased competition and technological breakthroughs, the newspaper industry is going to change. Journalists put their lives into their jobs. They perform a function that is critical to our democracy. And that is probably why they are taking things so personally. But, remember, it’s just business.