Saturday, March 21, 2009

Gone Fishin'

During the intense research I conducted this morning (i.e. web surfing) I discovered that yet another major newspaper has gone bust. As an empathetic sort, it saddens me to think of all those people suddenly out of work. As a writer, it disturbs me because the chances of seeing my words in print have been marginally trimmed (ask not for whom the Bankruptcy tolls; it tolls for thee). And as a person interested in history, I find it frightening.

I realize we are living in a time of change. The Internet, once the plaything of nerds, is now a major force. A lot of people are spending a lot of time on it so that is where a lot of the advertising dollars are going, instead of newspapers or magazines. Hence to rapid decline of printed media.

And the web is a wonderful place, bringing with it a thousand fold increase in writing opportunities. Photos, movies, pop-ups and other web wizardry can now adorn our words, making them more accessible and attractive to our readers than ever before. I've already discussed how, in the 1980's, if you wanted to start a newsletter or a small magazine, you could expect to spend hundreds, perhaps thousands of dollars and put in some incredibly long hours, but just ten years later you could do the same for a much smaller fee on a web site, and now you can do it for free with a blog.

This has boosted interpersonal communication to a level never before imagined and, as a writer, has increased my potential audience from subscribers to my hometown newspaper to practically everyone on the planet.

So why the niggling unease?

First of all, while it has raised my profile among people who normally would not have heard of me, and has enabled me to publish a real book (the kind made of paper, with a cover, and my name on it) it has not raised my writing income at all. Perhaps I'm speaking too soon, because once the book takes off and starts earning me thousands of dollars in royalties I may change my tune, but right now, I am not making anywhere near as much as I made back in the 70s and 80s writing humorous articles and selling them to local newspapers. The web might offer writers the opportunity to write, but it doesn't pay very well.

There's also the esteem issue. When communication was expensive, more thought went into what was said. Back then, words were precious; today they are free. And, like it or not, people equate free with worthless. Even among paying markets, a person writing an on-line column does not get paid as much as a person writing a column for the print version; it just isn't regarded as important.

As a writer whose words are primarily on the web, that's something I have to consider. But this is all mostly down to change, and major changes like these have always brought with them a variety of peripheral issues, all of which eventually resolve themselves despite the hand-wringing of old curmudgeons like me. So none of the above bothers me as much as my final point: None of it is real.

The family history articles you wrote, the photos you took of your cousins wedding, your household accounts, all the bits and pieces necessary for future generations to assemble an understanding of what life was like at the turn of the century do not actually exist.

A rogue electro-magnetic eruption from the sun could wipe out all those electronic bits stored on hard drives, memory sticks and floating through the ether of cyber-space (note to the literally-minded: I made up that electro-magnetic thingy, but you get my point.)

The Internet might be ushering in an era as revolutionary to written communication as Gutenberg's printing press, but books produced in the 1600s can still be read while I've had an untold number of data files rendered useless because the software or hardware required to access them has already become obsolete.

Without newspapers and magazine to capture what we, as citizens of the new millennium, considered important enough to write down, this whole era, from about 1995 until we finally sort ourselves out, might be represented on historical charts by a big blank spot with a sign reading "Gone Fishin'" in the middle of it.


  1. I am with you on this concern, and I may add the bit about the children of today are not learning to appreciate the written word in an 'actual' book.
    My grandchildren are being taught it seems, that all communication is via the web and they are unknowingly foregoing the pleasure of a "GOOD READ' specially at bedtime. I try and not press it too much,... (in case it puts them off) but I do encourage them to explore books when they are with me. I have a few from when I was a girl and though battered and worn they are my treasure trove.
    I have read your book I must add, and enjoyed it tremendously.

    Love Granny

  2. I have promoted your blog + book today in a post on my blog.

    Love Granny

  3. Granny: Just checked it out. Thanks!

    Just doing my part to keep the written word alive ;)

  4. A very interesting blog. I've often felt frustrated that so much of my children's homework is based around the web, but I hadn't really thought too much about the other aspects of which you write. It's so true, this new media comes to us at a cost, and this is a shame and one that we should all be mindful of.

  5. Cheerful: In my day (oh no, here he goes again) we had to copy our essays out of the enyclopedia ;) Kidding aside, at least we had to read it, and write it down. Now they just do a Wikipedia search, copy, paste and print. That's no way to learn.

  6. I am killing trees regularly by printing out stuff I write - I don't trust the unseen stuff behind the screen! An NOTHING will ever make up for the feel of a book between the palms of my hands...

  7. I sent you a comment which didn't "stick" when I published. I'll try again.

    First though, you're not alone in bemoaning the loss of good newspapers. Long-time friend Jim Taylor published something similar on his "Weblog"

    Thought I might post a piece reflecting both your concerns, and some comments from "French Fancy" related to the Daily Mail, on my blog: If that's OK with you.

  8. Jinksy: you're right about the feel of a book, no Kindle could replace that.

    Rob-Bear: "Thought I might post a piece reflecting both your concerns, and some comments from "French Fancy" related to the Daily Mail, on my blog: If that's OK with you."

    Sure, that's fine with me.

  9. I try not to worry about what I can't change. The next thing I publish (Nov) will be on the internet for better or worse.

  10. Ken: Not worrying about things you can't change is a good philosophy. I do try, but can't resist commenting on them; complaining is what I do ;) Good luck with your publishing, in whatever media you can.

  11. What an incredible post. You've really got me thinking about the longevity thing. I know you say you made the magneticy thing up but being intensly gullible I've decided to believe it and make the necessary appropriations to my life...big deep breath MH!

  12. MH: As Ken points out, there is no use in worrying about it, but I think it just makes sense to take appropriate precautions. I do eventually print out most of my writing, but my photos are all in digital format and I fear that one day I will regret it.

    (Ironically, after typing out this comment, it disappeared when I pressed the UPDATE button and I had to retype it all. Not a huge hardship, but it sort of proves my point.)

  13. Found you via RobBear's blog and loved what I just read. I am so thankful that my daughter insists my grandchildren have library cards and books on their respective bedside tables!

    Sensationalizm seems to have become the order of the day for most media, making it difficult for all of us to find the truth, or the real story.

    It seems we, as a people, have stopped thinking for ourselves and instead, are allowing ourselves to be herded like sheep. I use the internet to find that truth although it takes quite a bit of digging!

    In my opinion, if editors would allow their journalists to report facts without fear of how it could affect their advertisers, we would all be in a better place. But I don't see that happening any time soon.

    I've always contended that America swings like a giant pendulum, from one extreme to the other, never finding a happy medium. Unfortunately, other countries follow suit.

  14. Thanks, Gaston Studios, sounds like your daughter is on the right track, and she has some lucky children. They will thank her one day.