Column: Another year in newspapers; how many more?

Sunday marks 31 years for yours truly in newspapers. While not a round number, the anniversary provided an excuse to write about the uncertainty of my field of work, which I do in Sunday’s column. Above, a newsrack outside our office.

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  • DebB

    The Internet and surrounding technology has brought about so many huge changes in our society. Whether those changes are good or bad, they exist and we have to deal with the fallout. When I was studying graphic design in the ’80s, the word was that print was dead. Well, I’m still a print designer and still finding plenty of work.

    I’ve always assumed that newspapers would be around forever, and I could peruse one whenever I liked. But in all honesty, I haven’t subscribed to any paper in years. I found I was tossing them into my recycling can unopened because I just didn’t have the time to read them. And maybe also because I, like many others, don’t really want such in-depth news. In some ways, it’s easier and less scary to hear the little snippets on the 6 o’clock broadcast. Once we’ve gotten our 30-second bits of murder, mayhem and Donald Trump, we can change the channel and watch something that takes us away from the real world.

    I certainly don’t know what the answer is for the newspaper world. But like so many other kinds of businesses, you’ve got to adjust to the loss of the old way and find a new way to keep going. This blog, your Facebook and Twitter accounts, online ads – these are all part of the solution. And I (and I’m sure your legions of readers) hope you and the newspaper business will find a way to go on until you’re ready to retire, and long after.

    • davidallen909

      We, and I, are doing our best to adapt, and thank you for noticing. Whether we and other newspapers can find a profitable formula in time is an unknown…

  • DebB

    I’m curious about a couple things. You said your first job was in Santa Rosa (happy anniversary, by the way!). Did you purposely look for a job so far from home? Did you always want to move to California?

    And what is it about newspaper reporting that is different/better than other types of reporting, like TV/radio/magazine, etc.? You talk in your article about how much you love it – why?

    • davidallen909

      I got a job offer the previous year with a friend in the Santa Rosa area while wrapping up college in Illinois, and figured I’d give California a try. The job didn’t work out so well, but I ended up in newspapers, which was my original plan B anyway.

      Nothing wrong with those other types of reporting, and people who do them surely have the same love. I have just always wanted to be a writer. Magazines would be the closest to newspapers in that sense, but there aren’t many magazine jobs, as most articles are by freelancers. The chance to write a story and see it in print as early as the next day is still a thrill. I like the nuance of writing a story more than, say, having 30 seconds on TV to let the images tell it. That’s a skill too, but a different one.

  • John Morris

    The decline of the written word is one of the fundamental issues with the decline of newspapers. Increasingly people want all the information “work” to be done for them, like videos or TV where you just passively watch content. There is less of a requirement to think. Passive content absorption also makes it easy to slap one or more commercial messages into, or on top of, the content. I love newspapers and local news and get far more content out of newspaper news than watching TV. The ability to write content that is not primarily fluff is becoming a lost art. The Sears Catalog closed down about 1993 but within 10 years Amazon had re-imagined the “wish book” way of mass merchandising and mastered doing pretty much the same thing in the internet age. The printed newspaper is pretty much gone unfortunately, Mainstays of newspaper revenue like classified ads, job listings, and real estate have been siphoned away by other web sites. Most advertising on the web is handled through mega advertising services who take a large chunk of the advertising revenue even though the local websites are essential to attract the eyeballs. An effective way to re-imagine the important role of the local newspaper in the internet age is elusive.

    • davidallen909

      You’ve recognized a lot of the issues and I appreciate that, unlike some, you don’t feel the answers are obvious. (A lot of those answers are contradictory or unrealistic.) Thank you for your support.

  • Richard_Pietrasz

    David is a feature writer and not responsible for the major issues of life and death, which is why his job is safer than those who honestly report on these issues.

    Newspapers are not merely dying economically due to cheaper forms of advertising on the internet. They are dying in the sense of journalistic integrity because when it comes to issues of war and peace, almost all reporters, editors and publishers apparently have Alzheimers and cannot recall how many innocent civilians have died for greed and glory, or is it fun and profit?

    I did some calculations. Collectively, people in the IVDB distribution region kill more than a person a day in war. Local news reporters might note the Charles Manson family did not keep up this rate.

  • Theodore Melendez

    Like DebB said I would find some of the weeks news not really that interesting or apply to my world, and would only find myself reading the paper once or twice a week.

  • SAWZ

    I used to take a daily paper–but its not possible to get through such daily and the clutter keeps piling up. I now buy the Sunday paper only and on Saturday I am still trying to catch up before the next Sunday. I fail to understand why the various news sites resent internet surfers seeing their articles without payment. I pay $80/month for my phone/internet service (not including TV which is another $122/mo.) and whenever I try to access an online article that I consider important, I must first let the ads play, sometimes with music and vocal sound. Is the site owner not receiving remuneration from the fact that I or hundreds of others who clicked on are being subjected to that too? At this time, I cannot log on to the Sacramento Bee for state capitol information unless I pay. What benefit does the Sac Bee get from withholding that information from me and, therefore, limiting its own exposure to the market place?

    All being said, David. You and your newspaper are the last ones I would want to see go. We need our local paper and our local columnist and I hope you can continue until you are old and retired.

    • davidallen909

      Thanks for your good wishes, Shirley.

      Internet advertising is far cheaper than print advertising, pennies to the dollar, so what revenue we get from online ads and page views is not enough to keep us going without subscriptions and print advertising. That’s one reason the future looks so grim for us and for magazines.

      If the SacBee gets a few pennies from each view of that ad you cite, then even if “hundreds” see it, as you suggest, that might add up to five bucks in revenue, hardly enough to pay for the effort required to produce the story.

      Rather than ask what benefit the SacBee gets from withholding information from you, ask why you should benefit while withholding your money from them, or how the SacBee can continue paying its staff to provide information you and others want to get for free.

      $122/month for TV?? That’s about $4 a day! This is why I use an antenna (and, admittedly, almost never watch anything at that). I can’t afford recurring expenses like that!

      • SAWZ

        We use an antenna too, for local channels. Direct TV started out about 15 years ago with $50/mo for Total Choice with HBO. Then it has kept going up steadily–where we are now at the $122/mo.