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Skip Tucker: Newspaper Dissolution is News Evolution. Look Out.

By SKIP TUCKER, Alabama Daily News Featured Columnist

Rumblings of how the Internet eventually would kill newspapers began about the time it came on line. When I took editorship of the Daily Mountain Eagle in Jasper in 1974, national news analysts said 10 more years and gone. I didn’t do it. Really.

I’ve been hearing about looming death for newspapers all my professional life. I believed it. But believing something in the abstract and opening the door one morning to find it at the doorstep is something different. It used to be the morning newspaper at the doorstep. Now it’s a keyboard, figuratively speaking.

Newspapers aren’t dead yet but their collective breathing is labored, quite more than just some. People paid little heed to this week’s announcement that Starbucks will no longer sell newspapers at its 8,600 locations. Newspaper people know it’s a foreshadowing.

Before we go there, another nod to the Alabama Press Association. I’ve been a journalist or in training since Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. I’ve been a member of the APA that long, for the most part. Its directors for the past 40 years have been and are the best.

Folks like Steve Bradley, Bill O’Connor, Bill Keller, the late, great Mike Ryland and presently (for a few decades) Felicia Mason secured and maintain the association. The association will remain. Not the press.

Press associations are vital in many ways, one of its main functions is to keep member papers abreast of trends and, in particular nowadays, advances in technology. In other words, how best to distribute news.

News distribution is going to be as different as the advance to cold type from the laborious Linotype, which used molten lead to form letters of the alphabet which were pushed in place to form pages for a letterpress. It was called hot type and painstaking. It was also so much faster than former typesetting that it was hailed a world wonder. When I joined the Eagle staff there was a man, not old, who had operated the weekly Eagle’s Linotype.

We used cold type and offset press, with magnetized ink. That’s what created small dailies. In 1979, the Eagle moved to a new building, it’s present location, due to the leadership of visionary Shelton Prince. In the mid-70’s, he’d gone into the Brave New World with one of Alabama’s first computerized small daily newsrooms.

He about had to drag society editor Martha Pennington and I across the newsroom floor by our manual typewriters as we begged and threatened. Ah, my Underwood. I miss is the roar of manual typewriters and the printing press and the aroma of printer’s ink in the morning. It’s an acquired taste.

The Alabama Press Association led through it all. But newspapers are on their way out, sure as black and white. Albert Thompson of Jasper worked with me at the Eagle. We’re about the same age. Thompson, without a coal mine to his name, did quite nicely for himself buying and selling newspapers. Not newspapers per se. Entire weekly newspaper groups.

He told me that one of the biggest changes in newspaper production over time is in production – the actual printing. The Mobile paper for years has been printed in Pensacola. The Commercial Appeal in Memphis is printed in Jackson, Tenn. Years ago, the Sacramento Bee began having its typesetting done in India.

We’re going global. The major stockholder of the New York Times is Carlos Slim, 79, who was born and resides in Mexico City. He’s worth $65 billion. Forbe’s ranks him the fifth richest person in the world.

What’s coming in the way of news and information in general is fearful and creepy. Consider that Google, for instance, not only knows most every keystroke we make on the Internet, it keeps a record of it. Of that there is no doubt. Also, there is no doubt that it owns and controls your information.

Alexa, which is such a fun girl, is awake and listening 24/7/365. How else can it alert when called upon. Its data is stored. A cybertech called on it to do something and heard a conversation from a departed friend, recorded some time ago.

Trust will become a saleable product (always has been, in one form or another). Eerie words like Transaction Based Information are in play, and rumors of an information intervention messiah called Blockchain. Anything that has an on/off switch can and probably will become part of the Internet.

Almost 50 percent of Americans don’t trust standard national news sources now, nor should they. News is going to become even more untrustworthy because of multiple sources like social media and intentional misrepresentation and God knows what. Transaction sites will become more and more untrustworthy.

Vincent Cerf, one of the inventors of Internet Protocol, said, “We didn’t focus on how you could wreck the system intentionally.” Many experts fear a Genghis Kahn of Information will arise to rule a large part of what we know or can know.

People will also trust these sources more and more for the simple, horror reason of convenience. Convenience will replace trust. Trust is unnecessary when there are no alternatives.

But news will always exist. The real stuff, if one can find it.

Here’s Phil Rawls, retired reporter for the Associated Press who teaches journalism at Auburn University:

“Some experts predict printed newspapers will disappear within 10 years as more people get their news from mobile devices. That change is part of the progression we have seen for centuries as the delivery of news went from town criers, to weekly papers, to daily papers, to radio, to TV, to websites and mobile phones.

“The way people receive news keeps changing, but one thing has never changed in the news business – what constitutes news. People have always had a desire for news that focuses on things that impact their lives.

“The earliest weekly newspapers reported what ships arrived in port and what products they brought to town. People still want to know about new businesses coming to town and what products they will offer. News that impacts people’s lives will always be important.

“Newspapers and TV stations that adapt to new ways of delivering news will thrive for many more years even though we may no longer refer to the businesses as newspapers or TV stations.

The Rosetta Stone made it possible to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphs because it contained an order from conquering Rome in three languages – Roman, Egyptian and a brief transitory language that used them both.

This very Alabama Daily News is similar. It’s connecting the disconnected worlds of print and Internet in a way that supports newspapers and offers a bridge to the future. Instead of attacking newspapers like other online outlets, Todd Stacy continues to seek partnerships with publishers. These symbiotic relationships merge newsprint with digital on the Internet.

Pay attention to ADN. It’s the coming thing.

(Next week: Is The Democratic Party Coming or Going; Does It Know or Care.)

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