Sportswriter Jay Mariotti, who quit the Chicago Sun-Times
and then told a local television station that “newspapers are dead,” raised the
ire of many in the news industry including (former) colleague Roger Ebert. In a
not-so-private open letter to the Sun-Times staff, Ebert called Mariotti “a
rat” and, in essence, a coward for leaving the newspaper business during
Mariotti is of course entitled to his opinion and his career
choices, even if his opinion makes him look like a childish jerk. Nevertheless,
he is making the same mistake and suffers from the same misperceptions that
most non-journalists have about newspapers.
Newspapers aren’t dead, they are not even dying. They are,
in fact, changing, which is not a bad thing.
Change doesn’t come easy, and yes, change means that some
papers won’t survive. But newspapers were never about the “paper” or print –
they are about storytelling, and storytellers, and ideas. What is really
changing – and why all media is going through a kind of metamorphosis – is the
definition of news, both in terms or what constitutes a news story as well as
what are “legitimate” sources of news and forms of delivery.
My nine-year-old daughter doesn’t read a newspaper and may
never, but she reads news headlines delivered via our Wii game system. I read
the New York Times on my mobile phone. Contrary to the name of my blog, nothing
today is “below the fold” because our media universe is one big front page that
According to a recent Pew Report on changing news habits,
young people are losing interest in news – 34 percent of those under 25 years
old get “no news” in a typical day, up from 25 percent 10 years ago. But
Poynter’s Amy Gahran challenges the findings, noting that the study perhaps
didn’t investigate “social” avenues to news and information or the impact of
search engines or mobile technology.
News, like most all other forms of communication today, is both accidental and
on-demand. We often get news online when we aren’t looking for it, and we also
get news when and how we want it (we also seem to get only the news we want to
hear, but that’s another issue for another day.)
So let’s not confuse the changes news is going through with
its impact. News still matters, even if the news itself is not always
recognizable based on long-held perceptions.
And the Chicago Sun-Times? I predict it will still be around in some form ten years from now.
And Jay Mariotti, the latest member of the Dead Newspapers Society, will still
be talking – after all, if you ever read his stuff, you would know that talking
is the only thing he’s good at.