Haze, Hope, and a Phoenix

Monday, December 15, 2008
Since I last wrote a "death of newspapers" post, the world of print seems to have thrown up its hands and taken a plunge into the depths of who-knows what.
A year ago on this blog, I defended the future of newspapers. They still seemed viable. The rumors of their demise seemed greatly exaggerated. But, when the dust settled from the election and the recession hit papers, rumors of the demise of print seem realistic at best.

I could fill this blog with sob stories, or with worries that storied newspapers will tell their last.

But, despite the obvious snark in the Onion article, which declared "
Dying Newspaper Trend Buys Nation's Newspapers Three More Weeks," there is a legitimate truth. Newspapers cover the death of newspapers, and while I might look on with horror and desperately try to suppress the panic that comes from watching my plans grow vague and hazy, I have to admit, it's a great story.

I get to watch--and be part of-- the evolution of something that, I believe, will be, ultimately, fascinating.

There is a real need for news. Whether it be to revel in victory (photo essay of people waiting in line for the Nov. 5 papers to follow) to follow, or mourn a tragedy, or to understand the intricacies of scandal and failure, there is a need for reporters, writers, and editors.

Despite our low job approval ratings, I'm not sure readers are ready to give up on journalist-driven news and opinion all together.

The question is, how to make sure people see that, and how to profit off of the way readers consume their news.

There is an answer. There has to be. And this evolution is something that I will tell my children about. Not only so they can laugh at their old-fashioned mother, but also so that they understand the evolution of industry that will be shaping, exposing, and probing their world.

Watching my industry -- or any industry for that matter -- struggle is painful. But I can't help thinking about the Phoenix and how the bird, who combusts and then is born from ashes enchanted me when I first discovered it in E. Nesbit's books.

In reading parts of the book, this line seems particularly apropos:

"It was felt that Robert, as the pet of the Phoenix, ought to have the last melancholy pleasure of choosing the materials of its funeral pyre."

It seems to me that the reporters, the ones who are still proud to call themselves ink stained wretches, should be the ones who figure out how to let this incarnation of news die, and how to facilitate the next one rising from the ashes. Or, to keep the analogy withing this particular phoenix mythology, they should be the ones to build the pyre, but then to throw the golden egg back into the flames.

The death and rebirth of news might be one of the biggest story of my time. And I'm glad that it's one in which I can participate.

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Written Pyramids is a blog written by a journalist living and working in Washington D.C.

I have left my real name off of the blog so as not to imply that the blog is somehow linked with the journalism I get paid to do. (Still, I never write about my beat on this blog, and rarely express opinions about the day's news regardless of its relationship to my beat).

I would love to hear from you. If you want to contact me directly rather than leaving a comment here, I can be reached at WrittenPyramids@gmail.com.

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Books pyramid image originally from the British website, Explore Writing.