It took print journalism, chiefly newspapers, nearly two centuries to attain what used to be a virtually exalted status among their consumers.
And yet, the craft has all but collapsed in virtually no time.
What took years to erect has all but vanished in the blink of an eye.
That observation came from a dear friend of mine with whom I used to have a professional relationship when I worked in Amarillo as editorial page editor of the Globe-News. My friend was a freelance columnist; he had a regular day job, but wrote for us because he was good at it. Our professional relationship ended when I left the newspaper in August 2012. Happily, our personal friendship remains intact.
We were visiting the other evening when he made that stunning observation. His point is that newspapers climbed for a long time up a proverbial mountain to attain an important status in people’s homes. Readers of newspapers depended on them for news of their community, of their state, nation and the world around them. If you wanted to know what was happening in the world, you collected your newspaper off the porch, opened it up and spent a good deal of time reading what it reported to you.
We believed what we read. I mean, if it’s in the daily newspaper then it had to be true. As my friend noted, it took a long time for newspapers to achieve that status.
Then it all changed. Rapidly! Dramatically! Newspapers fell with a loud thud!
The Internet arrived. I can’t remember when it happened, but suffice to say it was the equivalent to the “day before yesterday.” Cable TV exploded. Social media burst forth, too.
All of that media took huge bites out of newspapers’ influence in people’s lives. Has print journalism become less reliable, less believable, less credible than before? I do not believe that is the case. Americans are still reading some first-class reporting from major newspapers that remain important purveyors of vital information.
And yet, we hear the president of the United States refer to the media as “the enemy of the people.” Right-wingers blast what they call the “mainstream media.” They accuse newspapers and other legitimate media organizations of peddling “fake news.” The attacks have exacted a terrible toll on newspapers.
The smaller papers, those that tell us about our communities? They are struggling. Many of them — if not most of them — are losing the struggle. The Amarillo Globe-News, my final stop in a career that I loved pursuing, has been decimated by competing media forces and — in my view — by incompetence at the top of its management chain of command.
My friend’s analysis, though, rings so true. It saddens me beyond measure to realize that it has taken so little time for it all come crashing down.