This week two well-known Washington Post journalists upped and quit their newsroom to start a new venture on the Net. That got tongues wagging across the blogosphere — and across the print business as well. In some quarters the action was granted watershed-like status. Brave souls striking forth from a crumbling old world into the wilderness? Or, er, rodents fleeing a listing mothership?
The hubbub simply sounds quaint to this grizzled veteran of the flight-from-print-to-Web meme. This isn’t the start of something big; it’s the latest in a long, long line of defections that have been piling up for many years. Chris Nolan notes some recent examples, including her own, in a letter to Romenesko; I flashed back somewhat further in time.
When a half-dozen of us left the S.F. Examiner newsroom en masse in 1995 to start Salon our colleagues looked at us like we were nuts. Give up good union jobs? Nobody wanted to read on the Web, anyway! John Markoff wrote in the New York Times that our departure was a harbinger of a new world in which newly independent “tribes” of journalists would break free from their corporate overlords and light out for the new territories.
I never felt very tribal, myself. I just know I’d rather help build something new and exciting than work for something old and valuable where all I could do was watch helplessly while its owners gutted and dismantled it. At Web 2.0 Roger McNamee repeated a point I’ve heard before: The newspaper industry is not doomed, it’s committing suicide. Its managers and owners have decided to “harvest” its value with 24 percent profit margins rather than invest the money to move its assets into a new era and onto a new platform.
In other words, you might say, journalists aren’t abandoning newspapers for the Web; rather, newspapers are abandoning journalism to the Web. Not all newspapers at the same pace, of course, and not all at once, and not without lots of fights. But the process is real, it has been underway for over a decade, and though it will take decades more to unfold it shows no sign of being reversible. The only thing notable about this week’s Post story is that the newsroom exodus is beginning to reach those places — like the Post, or the Times, or the Journal — where print journalism is likely to last longest.
[tags]journalism, washington post, salon, web journalism, roger mcnamee[/tags]
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