The Last Newspaper

Daniel headed for the darkest corner of his local Starbucks,
the Last Newspaper clutched snug against his chest.

He opened it slowly, carefully, as if he were cradling an
ancient parchment. The crinkling sound it made drew a few stares, and then a
few more as those around him realized that they were sitting just a few feet
from history.

Daniel pretended not to notice. He wasn’t much for attention
or conversation. But even he couldn’t deny the significance of this stubborn relic
that had struggled against the future and lost.

So he didn’t cringe when several customers put down their
Kindles and slid over to his table. After all, he had heard the questions over
and over for months as he executed his daily routine of “offline” media
consumption. He knew that this day would come, when the Last Newspaper rolled
off the press and he alone would be left to feel the ink seep into the creases
of his fingertips, turn the oversized pages and engage in a forgotten literary ritual.

The questions often took the form of puzzled amusement:

  • "Isn't the news old by the time you read it?”
  • "How do you search?"
  • "What do you mean you had to pay for it?"
  • "Why would you want a bunch of content you don’t
    care about?
  • "I’ve got all the news that’s fit to click right
  • "What is ‘ink’”?

Daniel took it all in stride. He nodded politely, laughed
lightly, and answered what he could with all the patience and quiet pride of a
museum curator.

He reminded his rapt audience that what they now refer to as
“content” used to be called “stories,” delivered by trained individuals known
as “storytellers” and “journalists.” These people didn’t work for companies
like Google or Amazon as they do now, culling “content” from armies of
information aggregators and feeding it into computers which analyze and pull
out the relevant information by keyword. Before news was fully automated, Daniel
said, individuals wrote entire stories themselves. They researched and crafted
linear narratives – unheard of today, he admitted, but at the time people found
value in following a certain flow.

Of course, people had more time back then, too. The move
from stories to content was slow as well, and its tipping point went largely
unnoticed. Before anyone knew what was happening, stories became shorter,
sliced, repurposed and packaged as do-it-yourself news. Where once we read
stories, we now consumed content.

Maybe this is why it happened, Daniel thought, as the crowd
went back to the soft glow of their Kindles and mobile media devices. Maybe the
descent from stories to content was the fait accompli of the printed page. 

Stories are personal and transformational. Stories have
definition and character. Stories are history personified.

But content is cold, distant. Content is a commodity – a
finite consumable of fleeting value. Content is artificial intelligence.

When storytelling is
reduced to content, ideas die.

And with that, Daniel stood, folded the Last Newspaper back
under his arm and walked away, leaving the future behind for the last time.

3 thoughts on “The Last Newspaper

  1. “Isn’t the news old by the time you read it?”
    This is a wonderful piece, Gary. I’m not sure I’m as negative on “content” as you are here, but as a former journalist myself, I agree that a bit of the story, and storyteller, are getting digitally pummeled. Nice work here — thank you.
    Ann Handley

  2. Bravo Mr. Goldhammer! This post is a perfect example of what is lost as media makes the jump from print to screen, from “definition and character… to cold and distant”. This blog ties real emotion and storytelling to an issue well worth discussion, demonstrating the value a true journalist brings to the online world where so many bloggers are focused on content rather than delivery.
    As technology rapidly advances, and we are forced to glue a blackberry to the hip, society is under the notion that if we cannot take in the cold hard content as fast as possible, we become inefficient and outdated, losing our place as a valuable member of the business community.
    As traditional print media slips into the pages of history I pray that its curators bring their skilled storytelling to the online world so that the humanity which they helped convey is not lost amidst the rush to plug in, update, and suck in the bare facts.

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