21 March, 2009

Who Is Responsible for the News Fit to Print/Stream?

A few days ago, when I facebooked about this website/blog and the book, a friend wrote back to say he had requested that it be made available on Kindle. That resulted in a discussion regarding the fate of books, newspapers and all things black, white, and made-from-trees. The upside of the Kindle and Kindle2 devices is, of course, the fact that it is good for the environment, convenient, quick and portable, and combines what we want to do but don’t – write on books, dog ear them, cross-reference pages – or can’t – increase font size for instance. The obvious immediate downside is cost. For more on the pitch for Kindle, you can hear Jeff Bazos, CEO of Amazon, talking with Charlie Rose in a February 26th, 2009 interview here.

But as we readers and writers absorb the news of the shutting down of Colorado’s Rocky Mountain News, and consider all the many print-publication related establishments that have been forced to rethink, restructure, rebrand or simply retire, I wonder how much our desire for “everything I want right here, this instant” has contributed to both of these eventualities. Here are the words written to their subscribers by the editorial staff of the Rocky Mountain News on February 27th of this year:

“It is with great sadness that we say goodbye to you today. Our time chronicling the life of Denver and Colorado, the nation and the world, is over. Thousands of men and women have worked at this newspaper since William Byers produced its first edition on the banks of Cherry Creek on April 23, 1859. We speak, we believe, for all of them, when we say that it has been an honor to serve you. To have reached this day, the final edition of the Rocky Mountain News, just 55 days shy of its 150th birthday is painful. We will scatter. And all that will be left are the stories we have told, captured on microfilm or in digital archives, devices unimaginable in those first days. But what was present in the paper then and has remained to this day is a belief in this community and the people who make it what it has become and what it will be. We part in sorrow because we know so much lies ahead that will be worth telling, and we will not be there to do so. We have celebrated life in Colorado, praising its ways, but we have warned, too, against steps we thought were mistaken. We have always been a part of this special place, striving to reflect it accurately and with compassion. We hope Coloradans will remember this newspaper fondly from generation to generation, a reminder of Denver’s history – the ambitions, foibles and virtues of its settlers and those who followed. We are confident that you will build on their dreams and find new ways to tell your story. Farewell – and thank you for so many memorable years together.”

As blogged by Jon Tantzillo here on IncBizNet, in a post that ties the ‘winner’ (Kindle) with the ‘loser’ (Rocky Mountain News), the goal now is to ensure that the quality of reporting that we have, albeit not with regard to every newspaper, come to associate with printed news, can be matched and sustained by what we download with our morning cups of coffee. As with most things, the pressure to make that happen must come from the reader – whether they are doing it sitting at a keyboard or gripping a newspaper is, in the end, beside the point.

2 Responses to “Who Is Responsible for the News Fit to Print/Stream?”

  1. Bill says:

    Ru,

    A great topic. I think we have only just begun to peel the onion on how this device is going to change our lives. I’m very hopeful that technology like the Kindle will actually save newspapers. Papers have been dying for a century now. There aren’t many of us who can remember the day when most cities of any size had more than two newspapers, published every day, and sometimes had both morning and evening editions. I think the length of time this change has been occurring is the result of changes in our reading habits, radio, television, computers, and now portable devices like the Kindle.

    It seems to me that we have, until recently, become much more passive in the way we receive news and information. Certainly this is true with radio and television. Computers have started to change that a bit in that they require the user to interact with them to get information. The problem with computers is that, even with today’s relatively small notebooks, they are still not that convenient to carry around. They are still more desk or table bound than lap bound.

    Enter the Kindle, a very small, light, and easy to use bit of technology. The genius of the Kindle is that it is wireless so in addition to being able to buy books and have them download directly to the device, all your newspaper, magazine, and blog subscriptions are also sent directly to it.

    That’s why I am optimistic that the Kindle will be good for newspapers. Previous technologies make newspapers less convenient and appealing for a lot of people. Thus the downward spiral of the last hundred years. The Kindle may make them more convenient than ever and that may create a renaissance of newspaper readers – people, who, in an age of anyone can publish on any topic, will rediscover the importance of news provided by trained professionals who are experts in their field, who have a code of journalistic integrity, and who have editorial oversight.

    Sadly, the fate of the Rocky Mountain News may be because it couldn’t hold on long enough rather than because it held on too long.

  2. Ammon says:

    I have to admit that I’m an early adopter (and huge fan) of the Kindle, for many of the reasons you list here. I’ve actually used mine primarilly for reading old “freeware” books, although all of us who are interested in writing will probably ultimately benefit from the “flattening” of the relationship between reader and writer — of course, with journalism, that relationship gets a little more complicated since journalism (unlike, say, novels or poems) often does require a tremendous amount of capital, and the mechanism for that isn’t there with technologies like the Kindle yet.

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The Books:

The Books:

On Sal Mal Lane

In the tradition of In the Time of the Butterflies and The Kite Runner, a tender, evocative novel about the years leading up to the Sri Lankan civil war.

A Disobedient Girl

A Disobedient Girl is a compelling map of womanhood, its desires and loyalties, set against the backdrop of beautiful, politically turbulent, Sri Lanka.


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