Newspaper industry entering a new era
by Daniel Gaddy
Oct 04, 2012 | 1315 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Daniel Gaddy
Daniel Gaddy
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It was a subtle way to mark the last daily edition of the Birmingham News. You’d probably have to work at a newspaper to notice it.

On page 13A, just below the section’s nameplate, the “30” in the date, Sept. 30, was offset by dashes. It looked like this: “— 30 —.”

Newswriters use that symbol to signify the end of a story. I sure thought it was a classy way to mark the occasion.

According to many media pundits, print journalism is hitting the cusp of a new era — the dawn of the digital revolution.

To me, though, it's just scary.

For all the speculation about the bright future of the newspaper industry, there is a massive gap between the advertising revenue made in print and that made online. And it looks to be a long time before that gap will close.

In between, reporters across the country will continue to pray they make it through layoffs, furloughs and buyouts.

It's something we're used to. If you’ve worked in this industry for any length of time, you know you can't help but feel like you're cheating the system somehow. After all, if people really knew how much fun this job was, they would never pay you for it.

That isn't to say reporters don't deal with their fair share of crap. Every journalist in the world can talk for hours about the crazies he has to deal with. But at the end of the day, those of us who get to write news stories for a living are incredibly blessed.

Yes, this is a great job — an important one. I know I'm no John Archibald, but I try to do the best with the assignments I’m given. And I try to be thankful for every day I have here.

But for obvious, selfish reasons, I worry how this digital experiment will turn out. I worry what I will do if the entire newspaper industry turns into some automated, crowd-sourced hodgepodge that’s more product than substance.

That’s where some folks think the industry is going. In fact, I saw a story the other day about a software program that can generate legitimate, readable sports stories simply from the game stats sent in by coaches and the players’ parents.

That story reminded me of a scene from “Back to the Future Part II” in which a flying robot equipped with a camera served as a USA Today reporter.

Now, I have nightmares of being laid off and replaced by a drone.

Birmingham’s public radio station, WBHM, is hosting its “Issues & Ales” event today, which is entitled, “What is the future of media and journalism in North Central Alabama?” There will be some brilliant people in the panel, including al.com director Bob Sims and Kyle Whitmire, the former new media editor for Weld Birmingham.

I remember a remark Whitmire made in a WBHM interview just days after Advanced Media Group announced the cuts to the newsrooms of its three papers.

“The watchdog has been put to sleep,” he said.

I hope Whitmire, who now works for the News, has changed his mind since that interview.

I pray for the well being of this state that he and Sims see some encouraging things in the digital horizon. Regardless of how we read them, news agencies like the Birmingham News are imperative for the well being of this state.

I know some folks might laugh at that. For whatever reason, so many people gleefully put down their local newspaper.

They have every right, of course. But to say three major cities would hobble along without steady, professional news gathering is simply absurd.

Think of any news story about the Birmingham area that you remember from years back. Whether it’s coverage of the two-year college scandal, the corruption of officials like Larry Langford or the sewer and debt crises in Jefferson county, they all have one thing in common: a drone couldn’t have reported on them.

Daniel Gaddy is a staff reporter for the Daily Mountain Eagle and a Walker County native. He can be reached at daniel.gaddy@mountaineagle.com