We Need To Talk About Newspapers
Deaglán de Bréadún
I have written this online. You are reading this online. No paper is involved. No trees died in this process of communication. Nor has any money changed hands. So where are we going?
I watched the new documentary on the New York Times, called “Page One” in some places but under another title when I saw it on BBC4 recently. This is the must-see in media circles at the moment.
Frankly, I didn’t find it all that informative. The central figure was a former crack addict who now writes about media for the NYT – his name is David Carr.
He was very entertaining and, despite his lurid past, has come to be respected as a serious and capable journalist. He was a strong defender of the NYT in the film.
I have long been an admirer of that newspaper but this documentary did not give me any great insight into the ways in which the NYT is coping – or not coping as the case may be – with the new dimension that the internet has created. Feel free to contradict me if you feel it contained valuable lessons.
Undoubtedly the world would be the poorer without the “Old Grey Lady”. The onset of online has posed a major challenge to that paper and to all the others.
In the US, some very famous titles have closed down. We have had closures here, but not directly related to online. Nevertheless the challenge must be faced.
It is often said that journalism is the second oldest profession in the world. But, unlike the oldest one, we are now giving away our services for free in many cases.
There are scare-stories going around that print newspapers will end up as a delicacy for the upper middle-classes, like artisan cheese. Frightening if you work in the business and not without a degree of plausibility.
At one time, I would have opposed setting up a “paywall” to force people to hand over money – albeit through their laser-cards – to read what we write and see the pictures we take.
I have changed my mind about that. But it has to be done sensitively and gradually.
I am no computer geek or wizard – far from it. There is another issue, though, whereby other websites are, er, enriching their store of knowledge from work that originated at a newspaper.
What to do about that?
The internet is a wonderful creation and has revolutionised communications. Long may it thrive! But in the process it would be a pity if good journalists lost their jobs and long-established newspapers who are crucial pillars of democracy perished forever.
Incidentally, the opinions expressed here are my own personal views and I am not a spokesman for The Irish Times Ltd.