When news businesses die, good journalism dies too

A lot of good friends and colleagues lost their livelihood this week when RCR Wireless News shut down in the face of a worsening global financial meltdown. The move is shocking on many levels, but what’s even more depressing is the speed at which news outlets are failing and taking good journalism down with it. [original link at iMedia]

Call me crazy or behind the times, but I’m absolutely certain that everyone suffers when fewer people get paid to cover news. Sure, most are underpaid, but that’s beside the point. Fly by night bloggers are not the answer – after all, where would they aggregate news from without full-time, salaried news gatherers doing all the legwork.

Look to Gothamist’s many properties for a fine example of things done right online with solid reporting to back it all up.  

On the flipside, there’s those journalists who are too close to the action and have too much of a vested interest to distill news with any sense of reality. Take this clip from “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” as a perfect, yet hilarious and maddening example.

That kind of thing sure doesn’t help, but what worries me even more is the number of amazing news operations that might go entirely dark before summer rolls around.

Colorado’s oldest newspaper, the Rocky Mountain News, already folded. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer seems destined for a similar fate.

And then there’s the San Francisco Chronicle, arguably my favorite daily in the country. I’ll admit, some of that’s probably due to nostalgia. I have fond memories of paying that nice lady a quarter at the BART station every morning for my daily news fill on the way to work. That paper’s been losing $1 million every week for years now and the decline, which began in full stride in 2001, has only gotten steeper every year since.

It’s tough to argue with those numbers – and no wonder the Chronicle is teetering on the brink.

I’m not sure where this is all going to shake out, but I fear the day when everyday people can’t pick up their daily news in tangible form each morning for a quarter. It’s an important part of our democracy, perhaps the most important. Sadly, things are only going to get worse for the news business, and it will hurt all of us much more down the line.

It may not be true for me or those of you reading this blog, but the internet is still a silo and it very well might continue to be for the rest of our lives. There’s many living in this country who can’t afford food or rent, let alone internet access and the expense of owning and maintaining a functioning, virus-free computer.

I don’t like the idea of killing trees to convert them into a news product anymore than the next proud, tree-hugging hippie from “The Golden State.” I’m willing to overlook that though, because I’m not worried so much about me and my access to news, I’m worried about the father of three who just lost his job. And he’s far from alone.

Friday Harbor - March 2009