Reports on the death of newspapers and the rise of online media kings like Twitter are everywhere of late and I’ve wondered for years about the impact of such a seismic shift on book culture. But recent attempts to start an in store book club have illustrated rather clearly what worked and what didn’t in terms of even getting a simple message out.
I’ve wanted to put together a monthly book club for men for a year, and a few weeks ago we put the word out via our website, the blog and our Facebook page.
It netted two emails indicating interest.
Granted, men are not reading in comparable numbers to women but it was disheartening nonetheless.Salvation arrived in the form of the local paper getting wind of the attempt and a brief piece appeared the next day.Three days later we’re at about fifteen or twenty names and counting, more than enough to get started.
Perhaps this only illustrates demographics, luck or that a Record reporter checks out our place once in awhile, but it’s hard not to wonder given the state of play in the newspaper industry; what we may lose if they become entirely digital enterprises or fade away entirely.
Gallows humour aside the book business is relatively rosy compared to the humble daily paper.
After years of trying subscription models, pouring money into a web presence and finally cutting to the bone, newspapers are going bust.
This has ramifications for all manner of discourse, but when media is both fragmented all over the internet and the 500 channel universe, and at the same time subject to more and more corporate concentration; this presents an odd happenstance for the nuts and bolts gathering of local news.
In an interview with the Guardian, David Simon, former newsman and executive producer of the HBO series the Wire warns that newspapers are the last bastion against a new age of corruption.
‘Oh, to be a state or local official in America over the next 10 to 15 years, before somebody figures out the business model," says Simon, a former crime reporter for the Baltimore Sun. "To gambol freely across the wastelands of an American city, as a local politician! It's got to be one of the great dreams in the history of American corruption."
It’s simply too soon to tell if a Web-driven community presence can replace solid local reporting, but for now Simon is having none of it. "The internet does froth and commentary very well, but you don't meet many internet reporters down at the courthouse."There are plenty of Web 2.0 voices ready to refute Simon’s arguments but no one can claim to know what will replace a decent, or even an average daily paper.The idea of a social network or a few dozen blogs in Anytown, North America doing the expensive work of newsgathering may sound dubious to a seasoned reporter but it’s a distinct possibility in several mid-size American cities.
Mark Morford of the San Francisco Chronicle (in better days they had the best book review section in North America by the way) writes,
“In the howling absence of all the essential, unglamorous work newspapers now do -- the fact-checking, interviewing, researching, all by experienced pros who know how to sift the human maelstrom better than anyone, and all hitched to 100+ years of hard-fought newsbrand credibility -- what's the new yardstick for integrity? On what do you base your choices? Some fickle mix of personal mood, blood-alcohol level, and how many followers your given source has on Twitter? Right.
Like the Globe and Mail’s Margaret Wente , I may be getting too old to “get” Twitter as anything other than a narcissistic time suck, but as the future of newsgathering?
Again, the response to our book clubs from print vs online media doesn’t have to mean anything definitive in terms of the effectiveness of on form over another when it concerns local news coverage, but as long as the public purse is bailing out businesses that don’t have to cater to the public good; how about a bailout for newspapers?