What went wrong with newspapers (Part 47)

Despite its unnecessary wordiness, here’s one of the best explainers I’ve read of what went wrong with the newspaper industry. Make sure you jump over to Part 2, which confronts head-on one of the harshest realities: The staffs of the papers, from management down to the reporters, deserve a big share of the blame.

I have certainly seen that dynamic in action. In particular, I have dealt with more Luddites than I care to imagine over the last decade-plus. It’s one thing for a journalist to not want to engage in the Facebook/Twitter/social media world (although it immediately makes that journalist less valuable) but it’s another entirely for a journalist to still lack basic computer literacy skills some 25 years after personal computers became common.

But in newsroom after newsroom, this cluelessness is celebrated as some odd form of eclectic, artistic expression. You’d think journalists would know better than to celebrate ignorance — we’ve all seen what happens when this sort of thinking takes root in larger groups.

In the real world, successful journalists will learn to work across platforms and will learn how to use new platforms as they become available. And news organizations must learn how to adapt quickly to those new platforms. But even now, for example, most news organizations are minimizing their spending on products that show up on portable devices — using crappy automated solutions even as those devices explode and proliferate. Hell, a lot of news orgs won’t even let their reporters get their e-mail on iPhones yet for amorphous security reasons, even though thousands of companies seem to have resolved this apparently wickedly complex issue, oh, three years ago.

But it’s important, amid all the wailing and gnashing of teeth, for journalists to look at themselves and say, “This has been coming on for 15 years. Did I help or hurt in this fight?” For many journalists, the honest answer is the latter option.

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