I can actually gauge the precise moment when I knew it was all over for print journalism, when all the speculation and escalating dread crystallized into an inescapable, wrenching reality.
It was May 20 at 8:07 p.m., when I downloaded an App for my iPhone that carried the ironic handle of News Fuse USA. Like a stick of dynamite, it exploded in my face, any speck of subtlety blown to the proverbial smithereens.
For a one-time payment of 99 cents — 99 cents! — News Fuse supplied me with content from 27 (as in Two-Seven) separate news outlets, to wit: the New York Times, the Washington Post, USA Today, CNN, MSNBC, CNBC, ABC News, CBS News, BBC America, Yahoo!, the Associated Press, Fox News Channel, NPR, Time, Newsweek, ESPN, Reuters, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Wall Street Journal, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Seattle Times, the New York Post, the L.A. Daily News, the Washington Times, Business Week and the Huffington Post.
(All right, so in a few cases I stretched the term "news outlet," but you catch my drift.)
Mind you, this wondrous little application delivers the individual content of each news site in a brilliantly streamlined, slick package without littering icons all over your screen. The sources appear en masse or disappear with a single touch. Every one of the newsers features comprehensive, up-to-the-minute content, laid out simply and attractively.
It takes roughly five seconds for each of the 27 to refresh, update and appear on your screen, depending of course on the strength of your connection. But no matter how weak your wireless, it’s infinitely faster than is required for any of the print publications to set type, print, bind, load the delivery truck and plop on your doorstep.
Arguably, it’s hours shorter. And of course, the printed stuff is already ancient history/obsolete by the time it reaches your bleary eyes first thing in the AM. Duh.
Were you to purchase a subscription to each of these news sources one at a time — either via print, cable or satellite — the price tag would come out to something around, oh, $150.00 a month or so. On this little slice of news junkie heaven, it’s all completely instant and up to date at the twitch of a digit. And again, you get it all for a one-time charge of 99 cents. Ninety-Nine Cents!!!!!!!
Lest anyone care to point out that by downloading and using News Fuse I am actively contributing to my own print demise, touche’. You are entirely correct. But then, I am doing the same by writing this blog post for TheWrap and not pitching it to a print op-ed page, which could take days or weeks of assessment before being rejected rather than the near-instantaneous acceptance and posting of the blogosphere.
The truth is that I continue to carry print subscriptions to the N.Y. Times, L.A.Times, Time and Newsweek and likely will continue to do so as long as they’re available. But I have to admit my commitment to print is these days more a matter of duty and principle than enlightenment.
If I’m only staying attached to print out of guilt — and I work in the industry, or at least did until parting company with the Hollywood Reporter a week ago — it has to say something. But what?
Here is what I think it fairly screams: The pined-for print rebound that journalistic professionals and purists continue to screech about ain’t going to be coming around the bend anytime soon. Not in this economy. Not with the cost of paper and distribution. Not when everyone is increasingly accustomed to free information the same way Young America sees free music not as a systemic flaw but a birthright. Not when you can get whatever you want, whenever you want, for 99 cents.
Would I pay 20 bucks a month for News Fuse? Maybe. Would anybody else? I doubt it. We are, after all, now living in the simultaneously having-and-eating our cake world of entitlement where we expect everything to happen instantly, flawlessly and without cost – the Magic Media! But logic naturally tells us there will invariably be a pauper to pay.
At some point, perhaps soon, the news fuse will burn out, since it’s difficult to imagine journalists producing real content in a world devoid of real-world wages. They’ll be forced to move on to a profession that’s compatively stable, like e-book formatting.
In the meantime, I’m working overtime to acclimate to a news venue that’s visually 1/20th the scale of that supplied by my beloved dead trees. Progress is a bitch on the eyes. But the price certainly is right.
For now, anyway.