Sunday, March 1, 2009

Death of a Pastime

In the bookstore, in the convenience store, in your local barber shop, or more likely, online, you might have seen one of Time magazine's latest cover stories: "How to Save Your Newspaper."

If only we could.

I remember in 1995, when Houston's two major dailies came together as one. The Post, acquired by the Chronicle, fell into the abyss, never heard from again outside of an occasional reference to the Hobby family, the prominent Houston family that owned it.

The Houston Chronicle is owned by the Hearst Corporation, which also owns the San Francisco Chronicle. In the summer of 1998, I interned at the San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner, which then functioned under a Joint Operating Agreement. A few years later those two papers became one. And just this week, it was reported that Hearst is threatening to close the San Francisco Chronicle's doors.

While these papers have struggled for some time, the deathknell has come faster than expected. What happened?

The proliferration of online media, from free news content to uber-specific blogging and social networking, is one contribution. Newsworthy or not, we can find nearly anything on the Web.

Habits, although slower to change than media itself, are another contributing factor. As devices, like Amazon's Kindle 2, enter our lives, how we obtain the news and information evolves.

Finally, newspapers, like any business, rely on revenue to keep the printers running. Sure, in some cases, they might operate like professional baseball teams, where big-money families can keep them alive. However, newspapers are being replaced by more profitable endeavors. At least in baseball, spending occasionally produces a world champion.

Admittedly, I'm caught in the middle here. I am a truist, in the sense that I am sentimental to the communal effect a newspaper can have on a large city. But as a technophile, I have an appreciation for the ability to express one's self in the same space as the biggest names in media.

In the end, my hope is that solid and steady journalism remains the backbone of news reporting and that the rigor that the big papers brought to the making of the news finds a lasting way into the digital world.

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