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Hermene Hartman

Hermene Hartman

Posted April 13, 2009 | 05:09 PM (EST)

The Ever-Changing Print Medium


There is a saying: "Watch what you pray for, you may just get it." Then there are those who teach that you should watch what you say because the spoken word is powerful. Well, in 2008, "change" was the buzzword, and here we are. We all thought we wanted change. The word was often spoken but rarely, if ever, defined. Change from what to what? From whom to whom? I'm not sure I wanted this much change.

Change. The auto industry is in dire straits. There are too many cars and not enough buyers. The car industry needs to be scaled down. We are told that it's "too big to fail," so the government must step in and rescue the industry.

Change. The insurance agencies and the banking community have done very well going to Washington for bailouts. They, too, are "too big too fail."

There is another industry to consider that's being overlooked, and it is too important to fail, yet it is falling down right before our very eyes: Print media is in serious trouble. Its existence is threatened. Newspapers are experiencing serious closings. Some newspaper workers are being asked to work without pay. Newspapers are closing in towns where there are two dailies.

I predict by the end of the year, there will be only one newspaper per major city. Papers are filing for bankruptcy, and the world of journalism is being reinvented, reconsidered and rethought.

Change.

A solution has come from Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (Democrat) of Maryland. He is introducing legislation, The Newspaper Revitalization Act, that "would allow newspapers to operate as non-profits, if they choose, under 501(c)(3) status for educational purposes, similar to public broadcasting. Under this arrangement, newspapers would not be allowed to make political endorsements, but would be allowed to freely report on all issues, including political campaigns. Advertising and subscription revenue would be tax-exempt, and contributions to support coverage or operations could be tax-deductible."

This Act would change the character and perhaps the very purpose of the newspaper industry. Freedom of the press is questionable, perhaps. Papers would act as educational entities, and politics might be erased from the coverage equation. This brings on a smile for some, I'm sure, but where would people get opinions and viewpoints? And what would happen to the exposés? This idea must be music to some people's ears. With advertising being tax exempt, there would perhaps be a stimulus for the advertising community, but what would happen to the ad agencies? Who would regulate them?

Change.

This is all a bit much, don't you think?

The government might want to take a serious look at the newspaper industry as a too-vital-to-fail entity in our society and hold hearings for solutions. Free press, as we know it in the United States, is assuredly becoming an endangered species. The revolution that has occurred for newspapers comes from online and technology that allows us to deliver the paper in so many new ways that the printing press is becoming obsolete. The world of printing is constantly evolving.

It is not just newspapers and magazines. Books fall into the endangered species, category, too. Kindle, the newest book-delivery technology, might erase the hard- and soft-cover book, as we know it. Kindle might be for books what the iPod is to music. Currently, the Kindle tool comes from Amazon, and most of the downloaded books cost $9.99 each. The printing process is eliminated. The text comes direct. Sony is fast approaching with its own version of Kindle and has partnered with Google for book delivery. Their books are all public domain properties and can be downloaded from $1 to $2. What happens to the author, their royalties and advances?

Change. Do we really want to rid our society of the printed word? Precious books? What happens to the library? The future has it that magazines will be read over your phone or on Kindle, also. I've got the technology, but the process is so different.

In essence, news deliveries are fast-forwarding. The technologies provide new mediums. I, for one, am not ready for the discard of newspapers, magazines and books. I love glossies, books and newspapers, and I love reading. I can't imagine not doing so. And now we are questioning, introducing, examining new properties and content in new formats.

There seems to be too much change, but change it is.

Change.

Damn.