Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Filling Space

One of the first things I saw this morning when I logged onto Twitter was a link to a newspaper column about the 1979 NCAA Championship Game.

Apparently, there's a new book fresh off the Gutenberg that makes the case for that game--and the season that led up to it--as the moment that transformed college basketball as we know it.

I kinda see the point. However, if we're looking to identify one Tournament final as the tipping point separating the modern era in college hoops from everything that came before should probably scroll through ESPN Classic's program guide in search of a replay of 'Nova v. Georgetown in '85. I could personally make a great argument for it, but that's not the reason I'm here.

Instead, that column has caused me to contemplate the slow death of the newspaper industry. And that's what I'm here for.

The column I stumbled onto this morning is fairly well constructed. The writer is competent. Even eloquent. He makes a point. He supports it. He concludes.

And that's cool. But, to be polite, the piece seems to exist for the purpose of filling space.

I'm not mad at that. Dude had a deadline. He needed to justify his paycheck. So he did. He banged out some copy. His editor gave the thumbs up. And off to the printer it all went. As it was supposed to.

As it WAS supposed to.

Years ago, I subscribed to three different daily US papers. Two local and one national. I read, on average, half of the copy in each of those papers every day. The only section I didn't give a crap about was the Classifieds. Never bothered to unfold those.

I kept that pace up for 2-3 years. Then I moved. From a place near one shining sea to a place near the other shining sea that borders the Lower 48. I was a special kind of broke during the first year I lived on the left coast of the United States. I couldn't afford an internet connection or a newspaper subscription, but I was able to find places to hop online for free. Libraries, college campuses, the office. My news intake habits began to shift.

Fast forward to decade later...the last time I regularly read the hard copy of a daily US paper, the Twin Towers were still standing in lower Manhattan. Not reading a hard copy paper, however, is not the same as not reading a "newspaper" at all.

Now, I log onto Twitter. I follow a few different media outlets. C-SPAN, the BBC, NPR and the Wall Street Journal. As well as the feeds of several topical bloggers I dig. TrueHoop, BDL, Both Teams Played Hard. To namedrop a few.

There's also any number of news aggregation sites to take headlines from. MSN, Yahoo, Google, etc. That's on an hourly or daily basis. For more detailed discussion, there are the web sites or hard copy editions of BusinessWeek, Newsweek, Time, Atlantic Monthly, Rolling Stone, Men's Journal, Vibe, Fast Company and Wired. Depending on what your interests are, of course.

Whatever your interests are, there isn't a lot of room available for a newspaper. Not the hard copy edition, anyway. By the time something gets to print for a daily, it's already slightly less relevant. That's not a new observation. But it hasn't become less true since it was first uttered, either.

If there's something worth reporting--or more likely if someone feels like it needs to be reported on--it will be posted somewhere online as soon as the point of the upside down pyramid is punctuated.

For those things that require lengthier consideration and analysis, there are magazines and documentaries. Weeklies, monthlies or whenever HBO wants to produce something.

There no longer is any need for people to simply fill column space. What's more, there isn't the revenue to command someone to create space that would need to be filled.

I certainly hope the guy who wrote that column I read this morning will continue to be gainfully employed. Good writers like him should be. As long as they're not simply filling space.

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