American journalism’s cloudy future

By joel cohen

It’s 1 a.m. on a recent Tuesday, and I have just finished up another shift of my internship at The (Baltimore) Sun. I say good night to everyone, not knowing if it’s the last time I will see them in the newsroom. I walk past the rows and rows of empty desks, telling myself that the only reason no one is there is because deadline has passed.

As I walk through the walkway and into the parking garage, I look out through the lights and wonder who will cover the city below me after the job and budget cuts. Having already cut jobs and with the announcement of more job cuts forthcoming, what will the future hold?

As I get into my car and make my way down the parking garage, I feel as if I am descending as fast as The Sun’s circulation numbers. I speed up. As I pass Camden Yards on my right, I begin to think of the numerous ways besides tomorrow’s newspaper that I can find out who won that night’s Orioles game.

You see, that’s the problem. People don’t feel the need to read newspapers when they have an infinite number of alternate resources from which to get their news. Why find out what Manager Dave Trembly said about the latest O’s collapse tomorrow when I can just go to Orioles.com and find out right now? Until newspapers find a way to generate a positive cash flow from their multimedia endeavors, their problems will persist.

When newspapers publish their own articles on their own Web sites, they are able to generate revenue from the advertisements on the page. The problem is, many times the Associated Press will pick up these same stories and mass distribute them across the country. Once the story gets posted on another Web site, the newspaper loses all rights to money generated from advertising on that page.

As I near Frederick, I see an “exit only” sign ahead of me. I begin to think if now’s the time to take that short exit ramp and get out of the industry while I still can. I decide to switch lanes and decline the invitation. Two minutes later, I see another sign that reads “lane ends 2,000 feet.” Is this the end of the road for the newspaper industry? Once again, I switch lanes.

As I enter Frederick, I begin to think of how hard it must be for local newspapers. If conglomerates such as the Tribune Company and The Washington Post Company are struggling, I can only imagine the turmoil at The Frederick News-Post.

As I exit the highway and pass my former high school, I begin to think about the students in the high school’s journalism class. Will there even be jobs for them when they graduate college? Will newspapers still exist?

I hit a yellow light, which promptly turns to red. I begin to contemplate the state of the newspaper in the United States. Has the industry come to a slow period, just gearing up for the green light to go ahead? Or has it come to a complete halt, with a permanent blinking red as its only option?

The light turns green.

As I turn into my driveway, The Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun” begins to play. The only line I hear before turning off the car is “Here comes the sun, and I say it’s all right.”

I enter the house and get ready for bed. As I fall asleep, I dream of the good ol’ days when newspapers were cash cows and were the main source of news and information for millions of Americans each morning.

The next morning, I wake up and walk down the driveway to get the newspaper, hoping The Sun will come out tomorrow.