In the late 1990s, I was a Canadian corespondent for Presstime magazine published by the Newspaper Association of America.
I chronicled the days when newspapers were bought and sold for a lot of money.
Those days are long gone, and so is Presstime.
And even the NAA has changed its name and merged itself out of its original existence.
I had a front seat back then and saw what was happening: newspapers were exchanged hands frequently back then, and there was a lot of turnover of owners, publishers, and editors. Newspapers were a hot commodity and selling for a huge amount of money.
Which I found extremely odd.
Odd because circulation was always going down. Odd because of the smoke and mirrors tactics of including free newspapers in circulation numbers. Odd because news hole were getting bigger as newspapers were shrinking in size and advertisers were walking away. Odd because journalists were being let go. Odd because newspapers weren’t really making the leap to the Internet in any memorable way: they saw it as a souped up version of a newspaper, taking advantage of none of the benefits of the medium.
Newspapers back then remind me of the Ontario real estate landscape now: you have shoddy, broke-down houses jumping up in price, as full-time jobs are vanishing, and people are selling their gold and renting out their sofas, calling it a “secondary economy”.
Sooner or later, the scheme collapses.
And it collapsed with newspapers. Putting every newspaper out on the Internet turned them into white noise. They all ran around, looking for cheap filler to attract readers.
Lists became popular. Pseudo-celebrities were given the same treatment as the president or prime minister.
What was news lost its meaning, and then it all blew up, and journalism did not survive.
I could see that disaster coming miles away. I would talk about it, only to be shut down, which is common when you are a female journalist. Deep down, people do not take you seriously, even if you are meticulous with your research.
But that misogynistic deafness cannot make reality or truth go away.
You have arrogant sots who think the Internet destroyed print, but that is because they are historically illiterate.
Newspapers survived wars. Newspapers survived dictatorships. Newspapers survived the advent of radio. Newspapers survived the advent of television.
But the Internet did not just witness the death of newspapers, but the death of journalism itself — in all of its forms, including online publications who are struggling like their journalistic forefathers.
Newspapers, by all logic, should have remained in play. I have always been computer savvy ever since I was a little kid growing up in the 1980s, and had a modem (and even cell phone) before it was mundane. I programmed my own computer games, and could take my machine apart, and put it back together. I was always the first kid on the block who had the latest model, and was fanatical about the Apple computers I owned before, they too, were no longer a big deal. I even dabbled in AI as a psych undergrad in university in the early part of the 1990s, and devised a way to use phobia research to create a model of anti-virus software that would be trained to become afraid of any malware, not to mention that my undergraduate thesis was in psychoacoustics, and every step of that complicated experiment required computer programming to pull off my obscure research topic.
And I read newspapers daily.
I read multiple newspapers every single day.
As in hardcopy.
I read about ten newspapers a day, sometimes more, in addition to my online reading, but over time, the number of blunders polluting newspapers became so shocking, that they were not worth the paper they were printed on, and I abandoned the dead tree versions altogether.
It was not the so-called convenience of the Internet that altered my habits, it was the lack of hard news done sensibly.
Journalism is a profession that is unforgiving. You cannot cut corners or create a façade because that contradicts your mandate.
But corners were cut as hard work began to be frowned upon. It looked like fun interviewing abused starlets on the red carpet indulging in their PR, instead of exposing how women — and children — in Hollywood were cannon fodder for predators.
And when that sacred trust was broken, newspapers exposed themselves, and the fall began.