Over 20 years ago I worked for the Chronicle Herald and Mail Star in Nova Scotia. I was still in journalism school and they hired me on so I could merrily report on drug busts, fires, car accidents and take lots of pictures ($7.50 for each pic then–if you can believe it–so I took a lot of them!) It was great training on an independent newspaper, known among staff as The Chonically Horrid.
Had I not moved to Toronto to get into book publishing, I might still be there…and I’d have a 25% chance of being out of a job this cold morning in my middle age (assuming I don’t drop dead any second now…that would make this my old age. I digress.) I had a bunch of friends from the old days who worked there. I wonder how many of them are suddenly freelance writers like me after all. And where are they on paying off their mortgages? Poor bastards.
The paper cut staff drastically. But it’s not just a black and white, yes or no, will newspapers survive question. Funding for investigative reporting has dropped precipitously across all newspapers. You have to budget for reporters to travel and work on the investigative piece and then you have to budget for the litigation that may ensue. The ad dollars that fund all that aren’t there anymore, in many cases dropping to 10 cents on the dollar.
The Halifax newspaper’s rallying cry this morning on CBC Radio was that they were still the biggest newsroom in the province. Sure, but the newspaper’s shrinking and the subscriber price isn’t going down. Instead of sticking with outdated business models, they reacted too late to the development of the Internet. More people are switching to getting their news for free over the net and ad dollars follow eyeballs to advertise on web pages.
The editor-spokesunit said they’d still be “blowing the lid off stories.” They didn’t do that before so that’s a new policy. I well remember how envious we were of Canada’s national newspaper at the time when they devoted a couple of reporters to an investigative piece over the course of weeks. Weeks?! We were expected to write several stories a day to fill the news hole (that unimportant little space between the ads.)
I’m going to miss newspapers. I’m sure they’ll still be around for some time yet, but they’ll be smaller and pack less punch. I do love a big heavy newspaper and a coffee on a lazy Sunday morning in my big comfy pleather chair. Sigh. Extinction begins with a long period of denial followed by a brief bit of screaming and kicking and then, nothing.
However, other things shall evolve in the place of newspapers. E-readers are the tiny beginning, a trickle in the coming tide. Big changes in the book publishing industry are coming, too.* Strap yourself in and wear a helmet.
*I wrote this piece some time ago but I think it holds up. The dying–and what rises from those cremated, inky ashes–is still in process.