There’s a report this morning that a leading voice in the newspapering business figures print will be dead in just 10-years. The problem with the forecast? That’s not all that will be vastly different. This morning, how to think like a prepper at the detail level.

A good start is to read the article about the future of the New York Times which is already 60% online-dependent.

The interesting part of this – from the standpoint of being an “old-time radio news reporter – is to observe the hidden aspects of this story.

(Continues below)

 

One of the “hiddens” is that the NY Times and other media outfits have laid some of the groundwork for their own demise.  For example (going from memory here) wasn’t it the Times that was one of the early-adopters of automated news “re-writing software?”

If you’re outside the field, you may not appreciate the depth of this change and its impact on journalism, but let’s go back to the Association Press Bureau in Seattle in 1975.

It was there that a dear friend “Big Al, the broadcaster’s pal” was on the radio / Northwest desk most mornings taking impossibly long A.P. newspaper stories and cutting ’em down to size.  Handling called in reports from stringer (like me) and always having a ready quip and a twinkle in his writing. Great writer.

But Al would not likely survive as a great writer in today’s world, at least at the levels he reached.  Because, not unlike me, he was what I call a “production writer” – a label I wear myself.

It’s not a slur by any stretch.  It means that you can crank out great ‘copy’  with blazing speed and impossible deadlines.  To be sure, that’s not the stuff of Pulitzers.  The latter are handed out mainly for ‘big stories’ and generally to the first reporters either one the scene or with the inclination to go really deep into something.  Woodward and Bernstein types.

But the production writer is measured as much  by their volume of copy which holds nearly equal weight with the quality of it.

When you can crank out 20,000 (and more) words per week, you enter the real of Production Writing.  It’s a familiar haunt to me and I learned a great deal from Al.

By the mid 1980’s the changing demand for production writers was beginning to change.  Al left “news” and went off to head-hunt.  Another honorable trade but again, one with a “limited shelf life ahead.”

One has only to look at onliners like www.zipredcruiter.com to consider that machine-hiring is the pending future.

The end of “production writing” in media  is being driven by content rewriting software.  Take a look at  http://www.spinnerchief.com/ and you will begin to get a sense of it.  A further glimpse may be seen at https://wordai.com which promises as follows:

“WordAi uses artificial intelligence to understand text and is able to automatically rewrite your article with the same readability as a human writer! Sign up now and get unlimited human quality content at your fingertips!”

Now let me flip back to the moans from the NYT CEO:  I seem to recall that the NY Times Wire – which resold (and may still resell) rewritten NYT content to regional newspapers.

The path into our communications future is therefore a big bleak, even if the Times story doesn’t get that deep.   I have some colleagues in the National Society of Newspaper Columnists who write only 5,000 words per week.  They are either gifted, or they are holdovers from the “good old days” which ended a dozen, or so, years back when auto-rewrite came along.

How “The Future” Kills the Future

There’s much to be learned in this past 60-years from watching evolutionary change.

As a boy, my father was always taking me on field trips. I had forgotten them mostly, until just now.  Even by class in junior high school went on field trips.  One of the most memorable class adventures was going to the Weyerhaeuser mill in Everett, WA. where we saw high-pressure water rip the bark off massive old-growth trees.

It was a taste of the future, though.  Today, what few old-growth trees are left are most likely to be on conservancy lands, or so impossibly remote so as to be uneconomic to exploit.  Oh, and that high-pressure bark removal?  That likely has something to do with the roots of what is today the high pressure “water-jet” cutting industry.

What?  You think it’s a coincidence that Flow Waterjet Systems is in Kent, Washington?

On one of our father-son adventures, pappy took me down to visit a Linotype setting operation of South Dearborn Street in Seattle.  This was when steam engines will still transiting the King Street station.

I could have stood there for hours:  Hot lead being turned into type and set so as to be press-ready.  Bet you’ve never heard of:

The Mergenthaler Linotype Company is a corporation founded in the United States in 1886 to market the Linotype machine (/?la?n??ta?p, -no?-/), a system to cast metal type in lines (linecaster) invented by Ottmar Mergenthaler. It became the world’s leading manufacturer of book and newspaper typesetting equipment; outside North America, its only serious challenger for book production was the Anglo-American Monotype Corporation. It also offered phototypesetting and digital products before being taken over by Monotype Imaging in 2006.”

Yes, even on the typesetting side of newspapers, change was in the air.  The Seattle Times run a Sunday section in those days called the “rotogravure” section.  It was a special printing process that enabled color printing on a mass circulation basis:

“Rotogravure (roto or gravure for short) is a type of intaglio printing process, which involves engraving the image onto an image carrier. In gravure printing, the image is engraved onto a cylinder because, like offset printing and flexography, it uses a rotary printing press. Once a staple of newspaper photo features, the rotogravure process is still used for commercial printing of magazines, postcards, and corrugated (cardboard) and other product packaging.”

Passed through several colors (CMYK sound familiar?) the Seattle Times pictorials allowed us to see stunning black and while as well as a few color pictures that were inspiring.  This was in an age prior to GoPro’s and YouTube…but less than a lifetime ago.


The humans are coming out of the loop in the information world.  Even our small “news and comment” operation here in East Texas enjoys access to most of the leading news sources.  Whether it’s the President’s Twitter remarks, press releases on economic affairs from government agencies, or highly organized press release distribution channels.  It has all served to kill the once lofty power positions once enjoyed by the (liberal) Northeast media.

Change is not coming in 10-years.  It is already here.

We have no illusions, though:  We know that with most news going “news-source direct to the public” that it will be only a matter of time before “The Citizen Video Network” – that’s our private code for an internet-based, anyone can contribute – video processing website.

YouTube of “breaking news” here is stepping in that direction.

Will there still be a place for an “old-style production writer?”  Yes, I think so, but only with contexting and historical references for those are much harder to reduce to rewriting algorithms.

For now, then, we will persist; happy to understand the changing information topology that spans from the newsroom to the printing floor to distribution and even tree-farming.

I would have though the Times would have it a little more clearly understood by now.

Oh well.

Reminder:

VD is tomorrow.  Valentines Day (not venereal disease, unless you are uselessly careless!).

Get something for someone.

For, it is written in the Great Book of Ure:

It is better to get the wrong gift, than no gift at all.

Write when you get rich,

George@ure.net

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