Last Friday, February 27, 2009, the Rocky Mountain News published its last edition. Though I live thousands of miles from the paper’s Denver offices, this development hit me harder than the shuttering of my local King’s Supermarket that same day. Don’t get me wrong. Losing the King’s, with its excellent appetizer counter and great bakery, was a startling reminder of today’s crashing economy. But the closing of “the Rocky” only two months before its 150th anniversary is one more sign of a cosmic shift in how we get the news and maybe even in how we define what news is.
I can’t imagine life without newspapers. I need to see a story on paper to take it all in. I grew up reading the New York Times and the (North Jersey) Herald-News everyday, and when I was 17, I joined the workforce for the first time as a summer intern on the Herald-News. I spend three summers there, and although I quickly decided that the pace of newspaper work didn’t suit my temperament, I am inordinately proud of my short tenure in this noble profession. Of all the people who write for a living, newspaper reporters are the ones on the front lines, literally and figuratively. Whether they’re covering a war or a ballgame, they’re charged with getting the facts and reporting them swiftly.
Not to mention accurately. Newspaper reporters and editors subscribe to a journalistic code of ethics that goes a long way toward assuring readers that what they’re reading is legit. (I know there have been some well-publicized exceptions, but they are relatively few.) The tenets of this code—objectivity, accuracy, truthfulness, impartiality, fairness, and public accountability—are ingrained in every reporter, including summer interns, and often are displayed in newsrooms. In a touching and informative video account of the Rocky’s final days, sportswriter Jeff Legwold cites a saying that was painted on the wall at his first newspaper job: “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”
As a non-fiction writer, I turn to contemporary newspapers whenever I tackle a new topic. No other source comes close in helping me travel to another time period, fast. The ads, the editorials, the very language of the articles transplants me to a different time and place, and the eyewitness reports on the topic I’m researching are often the best resources available. If more newspapers go the way of the Rocky, what sources will future non-fiction book authors turn to? Faded printouts of online articles? Vast digital archives of blog comments, tweets, and instant messages?
I don’t know what the news reporting landscape will look like in 25 years, but I hope it still includes newspapers. In the process of making its way into print, an article goes through checks and balances that strengthen its style and content. While the Internet offers immediacy and accessibility, information flashes that originate here need to be augmented with the more substantive articles and investigative reports traditionally found in print.
What do you think? Will newspapers still be around in 2034? If not, what other forms of communication will fill the bill?