All through my childhood and adolescence I read two local newspapers a day. Residents of my hometown have the option to subscribe to both the Journal Gazette and the News Sentinel. My daily news consumption formed much of who I was for a very long time. I even went to school for journalism and moved to Austin to start a digital magazine, because I was convinced the world needed another publication telling local stories in new and interesting ways.
Today I don’t read any news publications, digital or otherwise. Sometimes I stumble across an article from one of the major national newspapers, but it’s nothing like it once was. I was a heavy Google Reader user at one time, but now I don’t do anything with RSS. What happened?
I’ve found that the news doesn’t contribute anything useful to my life, so I choose not to consume it. Instead I get by with a lot of slow information (think magazines and books), niche blogs, and several online communities that tell me everything I need to know. I still get Austin news, but it is a filtered version that comes from other Austinites discussing it online. If I need more information about whatever is happening I go directly to the source. No newspapers or reporting required.
I don’t necessarily think my habits are a good idea for an average person, but I’m almost certain they are very similar to most people my age and younger. No one my age has ever come up to me and said, “Did you see the story about [some local event] in the Statesman?” People often ask me about thought pieces published on some blog or another, however.
It wasn’t until I spent time at my parents’ house recently that I realized how much things had changed. They still get a newspaper, and they still read it every day. Habits die hard, I suppose. Or perhaps the only way to get the information they are accustomed to is from the physical paper. I’m not sure, because it wasn’t important enough to me at the time to ask about it.
There aren’t many areas in life where I’ve changed so completely over time. I would love for the journalism and “news” business to get back on its feet and do something wonderful, especially because of all my friends and former classmates who are still working in publications. I don’t think that’s going to happen.
This all came to the forefront when I came across a Medium post about the future of “creative artists” and society the other day. I’m not sure how I found it (which is one fascinating symptom of my media habit these days) but I read it in full. Read it yourself if you must, but don’t expect any great insight into the reality of the situation. The author makes an argument that seems to be built upon the fact that journalists, musicians, and other creative types are making $X millions less a year, while Google, Amazon and Apple are making $X millions more a year. Amidst all that, people are consuming more of the stuff the creatives are making, but somehow the creative people are getting less money. The great logical leap here is that the money that went away from the former must have gone to the latter, so we can blame Google, Amazon and Apple for creative people making less money.
It’s a ridiculous argument in almost every way, and the only reason I read through the end was some small hope that it was all a joke. My hope was squashed, as it often is when reading about the business of news, and I was left to ponder my own part in all this. Over time I’ve learned to become more detached from it all, despite the time I’m spending thinking and writing about it now.
I don’t have any great insight into what the future might hold. I just know that I as a super consumer of news at one point, and now I am not. I don’t see a future where any of my news comes from anything resembling a traditional publication. I hope magazines stay around, but if not I’ll be fine getting my news from books. The rest of the important stuff will make it to me by way of the all-powerful interwebz somehow.
This is the postmortem of a news junkie. May he rest in peace.