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Posts Tagged 'the death of the newspaper'

Post-Lenten unwind

This last weekend was the most relaxed I’ve had in a couple of months. I didn’t have to set an alarm Saturday morning, and we were able to leisurely make biscuits and gravy for breakfast.

Yesterday, after Divine Liturgy, we had time and energy to walk to the movies in the afternoon, and then come home and make French Onion Soup for dinner (to use up the onions with which I had dyed eggs last weekend).

The movie we saw yesterday was State of Play, with Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Robin Wright Penn, Helen Mirren, Jeff Daniels, and, in a standout supporting performance, Jason Bateman. (Can I say that I never thought I would ever type a sentence where “standout supporting performance” would modify “Jason Bateman”, the ’80s sitcom kid?) Anyway, it was interesting — it asks the question, how do you make a good newspaper movie when the newspaper itself is a  dying medium? An undercurrent of the story is blogging vs. print journalism, and also how journalistic ethics are jeopardized when a newspaper has a mandate to sell copies at all costs. I’ve posted here before about the death of the print version of one of the newspapers of my childhood hometown, and Rod Dreher blogs regularly about surviving the various batteries of layoffs at the Dallas Morning News which have occurred recently; these are things I think about as somebody who taps out a few words here and there in various places, and I found it to be an engaging treatment of the question. Could Watergate still happen in today’s information economy? Or would it be spun so fast that the story would be managed before anybody knew what happened?

As long as I’m thinking about movies — I’ve mentioned before that I watch a lot of DVDs while I use my treadmill. I burned through the entirety of the old Batman: The Animated Series, as well as Batman Beyond and a good chunk of Justice League Unlimited. I’ve also watched all three Extended Editions of the Lord of the Rings films plus the Peter Jackson commentary, and recently did all the commentary tracks and other supplemental material on the Blade Runner: Final Cut set. Well, Friday, I finally took the opportunity to watch the new Wonder Woman animated movie.

You know what? It’s actually not half-bad. It looks as good as any of the Timmverse stuff at its best, the writing is clever and entertaining, the voice acting is fun, and it does a pretty darn decent job of having a thoughtful take on the material and telling a good story about the character. It definitely borrows from 300 and Lord of the Rings in spots (which I thought on first viewing and which later was owned up to in the commentary), but parts of it also remind me of Gaiman’s Sandman (which I’d love to see taken on as one of the DCAU projects, but I’m not holding my breath).

Anyway — it was a really welcome change of pace to be able to sleep in on a Saturday and have a Sunday afternoon where it could be just the two of us. We’ve got six more weekends before I head off overseas (for a change), so hopefully we can have a few more like that.

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The death throes of various business models

Virgin Megastore is closing down; The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, my childhood newspaper, is going web-only, and its competitor/codependent sibling, The Seattle Times, may be following suit soon.

As a small child I once harbored fantasies of being able to organize clippings to create a real-life equivalent of Sherlock Holmes’ index; all I really managed to do was make a mess and hoard a large stack of issues of the P-I I would never be able to go through. For awhile I at least had a decent collection of clipped Phantom comic strips, and I still have virtually every item run between January and August 1989 on Tim Burton’s first Batman film in a scrapbook.

The music stores I frequented as a kid aren’t there any more; Love Music in Redmond (where a friend of mine and I drove late one night to get the new Hammerbox album on vinyl, speaking of things outdated), Easy Street Records in Kirkland (where I encountered Harry Connick Jr. once), Tower Records in Bellevue — all dead and gone, years ago. Borders and Barnes and Noble, my later retail enablers, seem to be increasingly less interested in CD sales. (“increasingly less”? Does that even make any sense?)

I will mourn the newspaper when its ultimate end arrives. It has been inevitable for some time; most of the last decade, it seems, has been the story of the decline of Seattle as a town where two dailies were viable. For a very brief period I worked for The Bellingham Herald; it was an illuminating look at a business which was horribly troubled even in 1998. It will be an odd day when the presence of a physical newspaper in a movie will be an anachronism which dates the work, but it is coming, and fast. Still, I’ve gotten the vast majority of my news via online sources for years now, and it hasn’t occurred to me that I want to buy a copy of a daily newspaper since at least 2003.

Much as I hate to admit it, however, I could not care less that the bricks-and-mortar music store is dying. Really, it’s been dead for awhile, depending on what your musical interests are — this is just a matter of the physical reality catching up with the industry. I have bought most of my music online since probably 2000 or 2001. If I see something I want in a physical store, unless it’s a copy of something that I’ve been looking for forever which has long seemed otherwise unavailable, I write down the name of it for reference and look for it on Amazon later — but the fact is, it is so rare that this happens it’s barely even worth mentioning. I’d love to be able to “buy local,” but the sad truth is that it’s been forever since small shops have been able to afford to stock what I like. I can’t find it at a small, local store even if I want to buy it there.

Regarding both the daily print newspaper and the bricks-and-mortar music store, there is simply no incentive, at least from this customer’s perspective, to stick with either business model when I can get what I want more easily, more quickly, and more inexpensively in other ways. Classical music, for example — and by that I mean the body of recordings which a classical music aficionado would actually want to buy, not Hooked on Mozart — has become harder to find at a physical retail store every time I walk into one for the last decade and a half. There’s just no point in even trying, when every time you walk in, you walk out frustrated — not when you can quickly search on Amazon and find the CD within seconds, usually even if it is out of print. I might also add that iTunes, which I originally thought would be a horrible format for classical music, seems to have figured out how to manage to make the “per-song” model work when each “song” is actually part of a bigger work. This is not just classical music, either; the further your tastes stray from the Billboard 200, the more this will be the case.

As far as the newspaper goes — y’know, nostalgia aside, let’s be honest. It’s intended to be a disposable medium anyway. Ephemeral as it effectively is (heck, the Greek word for newspaper is εφημερίδα ephimeridha), getting rid of the physical means of conveyance only makes sense, however much somebody like me, who wishes he could be cool enough to be a real Luddite, might want it to be otherwise. People aren’t going to pay for something disposable when there’s a free version that you don’t have to bother recycling, period. That said, I hope we don’t ever reach the point where we’re 100% paper-free; there is something about the interaction of content with substance that it would be a shame to totally lose. (There’s part of me that would like to argue that this is ultimately a form of Gnosticism, where media are irrelevant and content is everything, but I will need to revisit that another time.)

I raise a glass in memory of the newspaper; I frankly wish the CD store good riddance.


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