Coping: With 10-Year News Futures

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 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 and you will begin to get a sense of it.  A further glimpse may be seen at 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.


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,

17 thoughts on “Coping: With 10-Year News Futures”

  1. In regards to this, I’m glad that my father-in-law has gone ‘to the beyond’ – during his working life he was a VP at a big paper company down south . . . showed my husband and I a fantastically impressive office with a huge wall map displaying the locations of their mills.

    Newsprint was an essential part of their business – I’m of two minds on this . . . and less books too are being printed with the advent of e-readers . . .

    New products will have to be developed (and have been developed!) to keep up the industry.

    But change is part of life . . . I have an old book that tells how to make hydro-carbon products from wood – very wasteful and as time passes new processes take over . . .

    • Keep that book! Knowledge is fragile and must be relearned each generation. If you have no other feedstock, HC from wood is quite valuable. If you have plenty of wood, the “wasteful” attribute is less of concern, especially if the reaction is exothermic and you can capture the heat for some useful purpose. Don’t forget that the total cost of a process includes transportation of the product or feedstock, prep, process, regulatory overhead, delivery, etc. “Wasteful” is only in a particular context.

      • I was able to get a reprint of it too – it was a well known Chemistry text book from the 1840’s. As a lab aide, my high school chemistry teacher offered me either an old radio or that marvelous book for my help during the school year. When I took the book she laughed and said that she guessed right, as I took the book.

    • Incorrect! Book Printing has more than stabilized (I work in the industry). E-books are what is in decline.

  2. I’m taking a break from “dating” since January 1. I have no desire for a woman at the moment. Focused on other stuff. Oh there is always a few, if I wanted a date I could send a text. Just need to do me for a while.

    • Lucky you! I’m glad that you have those choices. I’m still looking for an option. I never figured out “text game”, or any game for that matter. It would be good to understand what actions lead to particular results – the whole thing is very unclear. Perhaps some of us just know things that others don’t.

      Regarding presents: Sometimes they work, sometimes not. Often a present makes a girl feel obligated and then annoyed. The wrong present is often worse than no present at all.

      • Hi George,

        I used to live in civilization, aka NY metro area. The options were greater, but not much. I’m still within 100 miles of a million people. It would be worth the nuke target risk if the PNW really made a difference.

  3. To be a BEFORE FINDER is something like being a PHOENIX to salve.

    If you believe in harmoniousness.

    Then you might be the Ruby

    To unlock the hyperboloid

    • Stock market Revenue stamps.

      Is Bitcoin Litecoin ethereum are they part of the stock market if not will they be part of the stock market when the central Bankers agree and invest but you won’t hear that from them anytime soon because they’ve already invested in it that’s how come all of the major all coins and Bitcoin rise up and down together because they all the countries have invested into it and they control it from the top down

      • It’s very easy to see what this has to do with 10-year features because what we’re doing is for changing the money system and if you want to go 10 years into the future yes or cryptocurrencies because eventually it’s going to go from the Bitcoin to other cryptocurrencies that are more suitable for the future so the question you ask is will we have kryptos in the future irrelevant irrelevant to what we think now

  4. You forgot to mention that the NYT, in spite of going digital, is still bleeding money.

    There is money to be made out there in the news world, but the first criteria for profitability is to simply report the truth, not fabricate a reality to benefit the wealthy and powerful. But maybe I’m wrong, perhaps The question should be, who in America wants to pay for bad news?

    If you are getting your news from a source with a corporate logo, just keep in mind that google was just busted for creating 1500 websites complete with AI content creation based outside the USA and then pushed them to the top results of their search engines. You won’t find verification of this by googling it. They have also created 50,000 fake users using AI to post comments in social media and rebut articles that do not match their version of reality. I would surmise their fake user pool is dwarfed by those of the alphabet agencies.

  5. 10 years ago I thought news reporting would be a career safe from cheap foreign labor. The English language, writing skills as well as understanding the topic requirements were at such a high level that it was difficult for those not trained to master; impossible for an esl.

    They fixed that with finance reporters that can’t do anything but report prices and think bonds are up when it is the yield that is up and poor English is now fine.

    If “news” has degenerated to being anything that can get someone to click what is left to cut at the big news orgs before they just disappear? Or, are we at the bottom where it can’t get any worse?

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