Making Newspapers Matter: The “Age of Engagement”

When I went outside this morning I saw something I thought I would never see in my life – an empty driveway.

No newspaper. I checked the bushes, nothing. I asked if someone had brought it in already, but no. I wondered if the delivery person forgot or was sick, but then I remembered.

It was my fault. I canceled delivery of the Los Angeles Times for the first time, and I may never go back.

I will still read the news every morning, but it will be online. I read more newspapers in a day than most people read in a week or even a month (though to be fair, those same people watch more local network television news in a day that I will watch in a lifetime.) Yet my habit is now fed mostly by RSS, live bookmarks and Google Alerts.

This isn’t to say that I have given up on print in general or newspaper journalism in particular. I am a big proponent of the belief that print is going through a transformation, not Rigor Mortis. Print will be here 50 years from now – it will look different, perhaps more niche and subservient to its networked, online counterpart, but print will be here and journalists will be here. And some of those journalists will be doing the best work of theirs or any other generation.

I do wonder, however, if any of those journalists will be working for the Los Angeles Times. The Chicago-based Tribune Company, which owns the Times, has reduced my hometown paper to a shell of its former independent self. And this, more than anything else, is why I canceled my subscription (in fairness, I still read the Times online and get the Sunday paper, though that’s mostly because I haven’t yet figured out how to live without the color comics.)

At a time when other major metro papers like The Washington Post are investing in new media and recommitting to excellence in the face of declining readership, Tribune is cutting staff and virtually ignoring the digital elements that will advance the Times and keep it viable.

And it’s not just the big papers – smaller, local newspapers like the Naples (Fla.) Daily News and the Riverside (Calif.) Press-Enterprise, where all entry-level reporters are required to shoot video as well as write copy, are making the transition to digital and embracing our social media culture with aplomb.

We are living in journalism’s Age of Enlightenment – or perhaps a more apt phrase would be the Age of Engagement (while reader-generated content is important, I still believe most people don’t want to be reporters, they just want a voice in the news process.) But regardless of terminology, this is most certainly not the time to dig trenches and raise the castle gates.

What Tribune has yet to realize is that an enlightened society has no need for castles or kings. Nobody owns the news anymore – and while it may not seem like it, this is good news for newspapers, professional journalists, and the public.

One thought on “Making Newspapers Matter: The “Age of Engagement”

  1. Welcome to the world of no newspaper subscriptions — you’ll get over the guilt soon enough, and you’ll discover a wild new joy some day. You’ll be in an airport or a restaurant and there will be a newspaper there, and you’ll pick it up and read it, and it will be like your first cigarette after five years of staying away from demon nicotine. Be strong. Don’t go back to the habit.

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