This is the end … Beautiful friend … This is the end … My only friend, the end
— The Doors
• • •
I’ve always tried to stay positive when it comes to the downfall of the newspaper industry.
Not anymore. I simply can’t. I see the thing I love the most laying on her deathbed and I know I can’t save her. It’s useless. It’s hopeless. It’s only a matter of time. One morning, I’m going to wake up and I’ll hear the news. She’ll be gone.
Sadly, I’ve seen the light — and there is nothing but darkness staring at me from the future. Sadly, it is our demise coming ever closer with each and every edition that gets printed. There is nothing we can do about it anymore, unless a world-wide Internet virus wipes out computers everywhere, leaving them vanquished, like the cotton gin. Sadly, that’s the only way we’re going to be saved.
I’ve devoted my life to this industry. I’ve worked far too hard for too little pay bringing stories — news, features, portraits — to the people who read my words, and look at my images.
I’ve learned every aspect of the job: Writing, photography, layout, managerial skills — all in hopes it would someday save me and give me an opportunity to advance.
In all likelihood, all the skills and talent in the world will do nothing more than leave me as the last man standing on a sinking ship.
I’ll proudly go down with her.
Our current predicament at the newspaper where I work reminds me a lot of the movie “Titanic” — though neither Jack or Rose appear in the scene of which I am thinking. In other words, Leonardo DiCaprio will not come to save the day.
Toward the end of the movie, there is a scene where a group of musicians play on the deck of the ship in an effort to sooth the passengers, who become more and more panicked as their dire situation becomes more and more obvious. Even the musicians realize it and they stop playing and bid their goodbyes , remarking what an honor it was to play alongside of each other. As they start to walk away, one member starts playing on his own and the others all freeze. Music is their calling and in a poignant moment, they once again join together for one final song as the mighty ship plummets to its fate.
Journalism was my calling. These words are my music and just like Miley Cyrus or Led Zeppelin you might either love me or hate me, but you’ve read me, and I’ve put my all into this profession from day one, when I first walked into the Bangor (Maine) Daily News for the very first time as an 18-year-old sports clerk.
Never did I imagine I’d be where I am today, sitting next to her bedside as she breathes in and out her final shallow breaths.
My newspaper has another round of cuts coming in the near future and it’s not going to be pretty. And, I think, what bothers me the most is while we need to cut costs in order to survive, every time we make those cuts we’re killing ourself a little quicker.
The journalist in me will never understand. Our job is to report the news, but how can we do that with fewer and fewer people and earlier “cost-saving” deadlines?
Thus we die.
The news side, however, is just a small part of this problem.
The other side of the building, where people are supposed to be selling ads, they aren’t doing their job either. Is it their fault?
Not really. Not in this “economy” — which seems to be the fall-back excuse for far too long now.
It’s the economy, stupid, the brilliant political strategist James Carville once claimed.
He was only partially right.
It is also the Internet. One of the greatest inventions of my lifetime is also sapping the life right out of me.
Advertisers and those who sell ads both missed golden opportunities when newspapers first went online. Nobody really knew the reach and the impact the Internet was going to have over the last decade or two.
Much of the Internet is “free” — thus newspapers began doing what they do best, reporting the news via the monitor in front of your face. It was more immediate — when something happened, you didn’t have to wait for the next morning’s paper, or the 6 p.m. news — you could hop on the web, or turn on some cable TV and find out what was happening.
What wasn’t happening, though, was newspapers weren’t making money via the web. We were giving away our content for free and people were scoffing it up more than they were reading the print edition.
People say “nobody reads newspapers anymore” but that is a misnomer.
People might not pick up the ink-stained paper and turn the pages anymore, but every year, newspaper readership is up on the website. I know it’s true on our own website because I have access to our numbers and they are growing every year.
The only numbers that matter, however, are the ones with a dollar sign attached.
And that’s where we’re failing miserably.
One side of the building can blame the other, but we’re all going down together. We can certainly blame Craig and his list — and, while it might get you killed, it will also give you all the free classified advertising in the history of mankind. We can blame the Internet. We can blame our readers for growing up and changing their patterns, and not doing what their parents did. We can blame society for becoming what it is, as well.
There’s plenty of blame to go around, but it doesn’t change the end game.
The love of my live is dying and I’m resigned to just let her go peacefully into that good night. I know 100 different things I would do to try and save her, but each and every one costs money that we don’t have. You need to spend money to make money, but it’s not my money. (Though trust me I’ve spent enough of my own money doing this job to the best of my ability, doing it the right way, not the hand-cuffed way I’m expected to).
The only fear I have: What’s next for me?
This is what I know: The newspaper industry. It is all that I know.
Pardon my ego, but I’m pretty fucking great at it and when it dies, a huge part of me is going to die, as well.
I’ll survive, I’m sure. I’ve been through a lot in my life: Layoffs, firings, quitting jobs. I’ve been “thisclose” to being homeless, living out of a hotel room for X-amount of dollars week, hoping I’d make just enough money delivering pizzas from a car I had to borrow to be able to get dinner that night. I’ve pulled myself up from the depths. I’ve found the strength to bounce back from bouts of drinking too much and doing a few too many feel-good drugs. I’ve been in situations where my future and my life were on the line and I found a way to survive.
So, for now, I do what I can. I’ll just forge ahead until I can’t go forward anymore.
I’ll put my fingers on the computer keyboard and I’ll create my “music” as the ship keeps sinking.
There are a handful of us at the paper who are now resigned to this. We’re going down with the ship because it’s all we know.
The end is near. And we play on.