But was the golden age really that golden?
There’s no doubt that newspapers are dying. Employment at newspaper publishers has declined steadily since the World Wide Web sprouted in the 1990s, and the trend shows no sign of reversing. Pressflex itself was launched in 1998, near the high point of the industry.
It’s not just competition from free, distracting or false information online. Except for the New York Times and Guardian, attempts to migrate content and audiences online have largely failed. And print, the delivery mechanism that its prime demographic prefers, is being destroyed by the rising expense — Labor shortages, aging equipment and raw materials. “Adam Strunk, managing editor of Kansas’s Harvey County Now, wrote a column in June stating that the costs of printing and mailing that weekly newspaper had soared by 42 percent in the past two years. Each copy cost $3.03 to print and produce while subscribers were paying $1.26, he wrote.” There’s not a single newspaper press in Vermont.
And there’s no shortage of pundits bemoaning the civic effects of the death of the industry. “Responsible journalism is the foundation of our collective ability to address our problems as a society: to improve “the common good,” according to Eric Altman.
“Most areas that lose papers do not get a print or digital replacement, creating news deserts and ‘crisis for our democracy,’ a recent study showed.
At the same time, some journalists with a foot in the golden age recall that there were lots of problems —sexism, racism, commercial biases, boosterism, cronyism, focus on feel-good, pollyanish. Even the technology of newspapers often ruin good journalism. “This is a very frustrating game,” one journalist wrote. “You won’t be given enough time to go over a favorite piece ‘one more time.’ You will have to write with incomplete information. The printers, or layout man, or copy-cutter, or someone, will lose that critical, qualifying, third paragraph.