Friday, July 13, 2007

Digital Journalism, Paper Packaging

Annalee Newitz, a columnist for the local alternative newspaper, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, recently penned a thoughtful post called, "The future of paper," with the subtitle, "Post-print media, paper will survive. But will print journalists?"

The post's premise was formed through Ms. Newitz's sharp observation of a press release from a Finnish paper products company that is promulgating new product markets for paper, distinct from "traditional" ICT (information communication technology). Clearly, Ms. Newitz reasoned, if the paper industry is seeking new markets, then there must be some perturbation in existing ones.

You already know the answer. Print communication is dying out, and with it goes the paper industry. Over the past few months, I've witnessed the two biggest daily papers in my area, the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Jose Mercury News, announce budget cuts that will slash their staffs by one-quarter. What does that mean for the paper industry? Fewer orders for newsprint.

The reflection this initiates for Ms. Newitz is a lamentation for the fate of journalists who are left to weather this transformation without much or any assistance from their likely-to-be former employers, as newspapers and other media outlets cut headcount.

"I won't miss the paper, but I will miss the journalists," she observes.

This is a legitimate expression. As media industries are forced to radically transform their production and outputs, the individuals most immediately and profoundly impacted are the workers, often left without recourse, with few benefits, and little guidance to reshape their futures and their livelihoods. At the surface level, our economic system does not hold as a tenet of rational functioning the value of respect for labor. Yet any serious contemplation must observe that how we treat those undermined by transition speaks directly to our ability to apply the greatest volume of our creative energy to the problems that confront us as a society.

As Ms. Newitz concludes:

I live in a world where corporations care more about the future of paper than the futures of people who have made their living turning paper into a massive network of vital, important communications. This is not how technological change should work. You cannot discard a person the way you discard a market niche. That's because people revolt. Especially journalists.

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