In the 2004 book “The Vanishing Newspaper,” author Philip Meyer predicts that the last newspaper will be read in 2043. Conventional wisdom has it that the Internet is responsible for the sorry state of the newspaper business, but “-30-” makes clear that short-sighted ownership and journalists themselves are also to blame for the current state of affairs.
Edited by Charles M. Madigan, a former UPI correspondent and longtime editor, correspondent and columnist for the Chicago Tribune, “-30-” contains 15 recent essays by high-profile journalists like Ken Auletta and David Carr, most of which seek to explain how the American newspaper business got where it is today. The lion’s share of the blame is assigned to major media companies like Gannett and the Tribune Company, which have placed profitability and their own agendas ahead of quality and public responsibility, thereby compromising the important role newspapers have long served in our society.
Meanwhile, “-30-”—the -30- mark once signaled the end of a reporter's story—reminds us that the industry has an alarming habit of “innovating” against its own interests. By dumbing down content and taking out the “important” news, papers haven’t succeeded in attracting the next generation of readers, but have undermined their own authority. Even more disturbing is how quickly newspapers have embraced “citizen journalism,” when practicing community journalism and engaging local audiences would serve the same purpose without further diminishing their own credibility.
Fortunately, a few chapters in “-30-” are devoted to the continuing relevance of newspapers, which still—at times—have the ability to expose corruption and keep politicians on the straight-and-narrow. The saddest part of the story told by “-30-” is that if newspapers do become extinct, the American people won’t understand what they’ve lost till they’re gone.