Thursday, April 17, 2008

But Why Are They So ANGRY?

(Photo by Nicholas Bryant)


That headline isn't exactly fair because I'm one of them. It should read: But Why Are We So ANGRY? But I liked the finger-pointing aspect of the word "they." And it makes this post appear less self-serving.

My rant from late last week about this freebie journalism called "blogging" bled over to a writers forum I participate in, and then the conversation popped up again between me and another writer via e-mail, and here you go ... a bunch of ticked-off writers who have no other audience other than other ticked-off writers. At least we have each other! (Many days, no one else would have us. Sniff, sniff.) The ironic part of the whole thing is that we continue to blog and contribute to online forums about the topic -- the topic being that the internet is killing our bottom line.
Here's the deal: Even if you aren't a writer, you do read, and maybe you read newspapers and magazines. And if you do, then maybe this will inspire you to look at them a little differently and maybe provide a better understanding of people -- angry people -- who are just trying to make a living in an industry that is becoming harder and harder to work in and still earn a decent paycheck.

Spurring the wrath, at least in part, is an honest and (of course) well-written look at the unraveling of an industry, written by Jonathan Handel in the most excellent Huffington Post. In it, Handel lists six reasons why content (across all media) has been devalued. A large chunk of it is devoted to blaming technology, which provides immediate and 'round-the-clock access to what was previously a sought-after commodity. Something people PAID for. But now that so much content is free for the taking, quality can be compromised. OK, stop, Amy. Let Handel do the talking. An excerpt:

Subscribe to a newspaper or magazine? Don't bother; most are free online, and there are literally millions of other sources for news, ranging from blogs like the Huffington Post to user generated content. (Full disclosure: I'm a blogger, which makes me part of the problem.) The TV news? Also becoming irrelevant. And books, magazines and journals? So much information is available online that whole categories of publications seem less important.

This all just makes me very sad because I love newspapers and magazines, and you just can't curl up with a good laptop. You need to turn pages, drink coffee over newsprint, pass pages around the table, fight over the comics.

I love that my 12-year-old knows who Leonard Pitts Jr. is. I love that he's just as likely to run out and pick up the morning paper from the driveway as his father is. I love that on his way out the door earlier this week, he shouted over his shoulder, "You need to check out today's letters to the editor! One guy wrote about 'free will'!" Does that make him smarter than anyone else? Absolutely not. Just a little old-fashioned and not completely and hopelessly captivated by YouTube.

Writing will certainly always be around, but no one can readily predict the future of newspapers, as the industry morphs and adapts to a changing readership and the dizzying technology that makes me want to throw my hands in the air and say, "Oh, forget it" because I'm too dim to figure it out and too stubborn to care.

If you're interested in reading about how journalists REALLY feel about the changing industry, check out angryjournalist.com, but be warned: This site is not for the faint of heart. When journalists get angry, our language sometimes shows it. The cool part is that it's completely anonymous, and that makes the site even MORE eye-opening. All staff writers, freelancers and anyone who writes for a living can be painfully candid about a bad edit by a copy editor, declining salaries and fees, or just a plain bad day at the office, whether that office is at home, in the newspaper building or with a magazine publisher. It's like an online gripe session.

If I've bored the non-writers today, I do apologize. But maybe some of you are newspaper and magazine readers and can be sad (or, at least, concerned) with me for just one day and blame that Al Gore for yet something else ...