DC at Night

DC at Night

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Back and White and Dead All Over

Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Newspapers in big trouble. Ad revenues plummet. Readership declines. Papers shut down. Layoffs now in the thousands.

Indeed, the current situation of the American newspaper industry is extremely bleak. Since 2008, more than 170 papers have closed or have gone to on-line only editions. A recent study said being a newspaper reporter was the worst job in the country. More than 50,000 news employees have lost their jobs in the past 5 years.

Recently, a new documentary on the issue entitled Black and White and Dead All Over: A Film About the End of American Newspapers premiered at the Newseum. The film provides an in-depth look at the newspaper industry as it struggles to remain financially viable and keep the presses rolling. Directed by Lenny Feinberg, the documentary also examines the importance journalism has in our society by following 2 reporters from The Daily News in Philadelphia. The big question behind the film is - if the American newspaper dies, who will conduct investigative journalism and hold public figures accountable for their actions?

Following the showing, a panel of journalists discussed how the dire situation is affecting their own careers and the news organizations that employ them.

"Newspaper are not dead, but the next 5 years will be critical," said Washington Post deputy managing editor of investigative reporting Jeff Lien. "We need to find solutions. Our readership is getting older and they are dying off. There's no magic bullet. There's no single answer."

John Sullivan, who was hired as an investigative reporter at the Post from The Philadelphia Inquirer (also featured in the documentary) said "I lived this (the story of the film) to some degree."

Thomas Jefferson, in an oft-quoted statement, once said: "If we were to have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I would not hesitate a moment to choose the latter." Sullivan said the sentiment behind Jefferson's statement is just as true today. "We need investigative journalism. We need the newspapers," he said. "The newspapers have the weight and the acceptance of the community."

Part of the newspaper decline has been the rapid growth of the internet. And, to date, newspapers have not been able to devise a viable financial model for paying for the content they put online. "It can't continue to be free or it (newspaper reporting) will be gone," Lien said. "All you will have are bloggers in their pajamas writing about movie stars."

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
To view the trailer for White and Black and Dead All Over, just click here. To check out a Facebook page devoted to the film and its subject, click here.

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