More SNL Than Freaks and Geeks

On the seamlessly endless durability of American Journalism.

It’s probably true: print journalism is donezo.

Save an “ew, iPods are so corporate, let’s all get record players” reimagination (take a number behind mom jeans, analog photography, and pea-soup furniture), newspapers will continue sliding closer and closer to paper mâché project relegation. Just ask Pew – the D.C think tank with the best ear money can buy. A decade worth of American and International consumption, behavior, and attitude tallying represents what you’ve likely gleaned from any big city subway car: ink just doesn’t stain hands like it used to.

Officially, total revenue supporting American Journalism has been in decline since 2006 (nicknamed The Free Fall). Pew estimates in eight years a once $94-95 billion has dwindled by one-third to $63-65 billion. That’s consistent with The Newspaper Association of America’s findings, detailing a print advertisement revenue fall from $60 billion around 2000, to a 1950’s matching (adjusted for inflation) $20 billion in 2011. During that time, as much as 82% of total revenue was drawn from print and digital advertising – the heavy bulk from print. In concert, workers are fleeing the newsroom (a reported 17,000 from 2006 to 2012) like it’s the last day of middle school. Instead of dumping textbooks, they’re chucking A1’s.

But this isn’t your grandpa’s article. I can’t tell you if journalism is maggot-food or another loaded Omaha-ian away from a momentous digital revolution (it’s equally both and equally neither). Instead, I offer assurance in an American press that’s far more SNL than Freaks and Geeks. Far more Akroyd, Farley, and Fey than Cardellini, Levine, and Starr.

Hard to believe – or not – that the group America’s founders constitutionally protected was a lot of defamatory, assertive son of a guns. Partisan opponents of the Stamp Act, colonial newspapers (some documented 89 in 35 cities by the 1770’s) led the fight against the declaration, earning its exile. Mostly pro-patriotism, yet nevertheless dangerous, Thomas Jefferson maintained “whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” Again 150 years later, in FDR’s words: “If in other lands the press and books and literature of all kinds are censored, we must redouble our efforts here to keep them free.”

That can’t be forgotten. That, the first noted example linked to 1690, American Journo is  enjoying its fifth century. Unlike Judd Apatow’s 1999 indie hit, it’s stuck around for a while. Like Saturday Night Live, it’s found a spot on the window sill.

There’s something sexy in proclaiming the buck stops here. Something attractive in being Zoltar for the Fourth Estate. In reality, the red, white, and blue press was often all three: blemished while scampering from early political funding, depigmented in swiping the keys from generations for a Wall Street address, and only now gasping for air after the internet did what radio and television couldn’t – relinquish mass communication to the people. They lost Kristen Wiig, Seth Meyers, and Andy Samberg all at once.

Many feared a 140 character world overrun by citizen journalists, bereft of passion for fact checking or objectivity. Would language trim to three sentences and a pound sign? Maybe it’s a direct response then that’s charged long-form’s revival, Twitter’s logical opposition. In the sports world where I live, ESPN’s Grantland – digital lovechild of basketball blogger Bill Simmons – champions lengthy reads, and does so before an ever-infatuated audience. Those who understand the resources available have produced multimedia masterpieces the likes of which were never possible in newspapers, most notably a Pulitzer-winning New York Times piece dubbed “Snow Fall,” and people are tuning in. There’s a light here.

The New York Times reported a 36% increase in revenue from digital subscribers last year. Successful incorporation of internet paywalls produced higher subscription revenue than ad dollars – a previously untested hypothesis. The constituency was last marked at 760,000, a number that could reach a million by the end of 2014. Media conglomerates are simultaneously betting big on local television. Following a dramatic influx of political advertising dollars tied to the Citizens United Supreme Court case,  Gannett (USA Today) completed a $2.2 billion purchase of Belo TV in time for 2016’s election. In suit, stockholders have been rewarded.

Such imagination is worth betting on. If this whole thing was destined for a Michael Bay ending (explosionssss), wouldn’t it be here already?  Wouldn’t we be cleaning up the soot left by Gilda Radner and John Belushi? Wouldn’t we be wiping away debris left by the show-saving Sandler, Farley, and Spade? New York breeds talent, and America breeds journalism. That’s probably here to stay.

Bring out the champagnyah.

by CHRIS MELVILLE / sports editor


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