Nostalgia and newspapers

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This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles of interest to other writers. Today I discuss an article written by Clay Shirkey.

I began my working life in newspapers. My parents owned a struggling weekly and I worked there, part-time, from the age of 17 and full-time for five years after I graduated from university. I call that the indentured servitude part of my career.

Working at a weekly newspaper was a constant struggle. We  never sold quite enough ads and never had nearly enough money. When I finally landed a job at a large metropolitan daily, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. But I didn’t have a clue how short this career would be. I started before desktop computers became widely used in the home. Before everyone knew what the Internet was. Before, even, cell phones. The newspaper business was on the skids by the time I took a buy-out, in 1985, shortly after my kids were born. I got out barely in time.

Writer and consultant Clay Shirkey, author of the marvellous book Here Comes Everybody, now describes newspaper revivalists (and there aren’t many of them) as “nostalgists.” This is compared to everyone else — whom he describes as realists. And I’m inclined to agree with the points he makes in his blog, headlined “Nostalgia and Newspapering.” Newspapers are dead or dying. Anyone who argues otherwise is deluded. I also agree with his comment,

an industry that prides itself on pitiless public scrutiny of politics and industry has largely lost the will to cover itself with any more skepticism than sports reporters rooting for the home team. 

That said, I mourn the loss of investigative reporting and I worry that the firehose of “free” news available on the Internet — with little or no editing and no discernible standards applied to it — is going to damage our ability to understand and debate serious political issues.

The world is changing so quickly. I hope that some of the values of newspapering — if not the medium itself — manage to survive.