Generational changes need to be embraced

I never met my paperboy Daniel Lynch. He delivered my newspaper in my neighborhood every morning.

I always just missed him when he threw the paper out of his car at 4 a.m. But he never failed. Snow, rain, tornadoes. He delivered the paper even when the mailman didn’t deliver the mail.

He did it for 27 years until this week. He was laid off.

“I will no longer be the Washington Post Agent for your area,” he wrote in a letter to his customers this week. “Due to corporate downsizing, my position is being eliminated.”

Blame it on the Internet.

Computers ruined everything and built everything for us  journalists. Pagination made our lives as journalists simple. And bloggers made us “true journalists” frown. Watch State of Play and that’s how a majority of us felt four years ago about bloggers.

It was hard to accept them. It’s not that we didn’t like them; we just felt threatened by them. They were fast -, multimedia specialists and had a viral audience. We criticized them – calling them as a whole  a little bit too loose with the facts even though many times they simply beat us and were dead on with the news. At some point we realized they were here to stay and that we needed to become one of them to survive.

But many of us were too slow to react to the massive changes taking place. We didn’t want to shoot pictures. We didn’t want to shoot video. We were replaced by a multimedia specialist who could do two or three of our jobs.

It’s not that you don’t need as many journalists to put out the news for an online publication, the industry simply did not have the advertising support to handle the growth nor did the publishers want to give up those 30 percent and higher profit margins they enjoyed in the glory years of newspapers.

With all the job losses – the journalism industry was dead – oh so we thought – because we didn’t want to change. You might as well write us up in the obituary section if there are any papers left to do that. Dead – the newspaper man. Rest in Peace the newspaper woman.

I saw it coming when readers started printing out stories from websites and reading them in the restroom. I saw the change when my son Jesse started reading books on his phone. I saw the change when newspapers boxes were still full of papers late in the evening.

But I admit I’m slow to change. I’m an old newspaper guy. My wife calls me stubborn to the point of insulting at times. I still enjoy reading a newspaper at a coffee shop, and buying an occasional book, which brings out a laugh from our Baltimore Post-Examiner’s tech wizard Erik Hoffman.  When I told him I wanted to buy a book on how to use Twitter. “Just Google it,” he says. “Lots of blogs about that.”

Besides, he questions: “Is there a book store still in business? You’re just a tree killer.”

OK, I admit I’m slowly starting to walk by newspaper racks.  I started to do what  my  18-year-old son’s generation does – something I criticized and made fun of him for too long. I read the news on a laptop, iPad or my iPhone and now I send dozens of daily texts.

More people my age are doing that. And if you’re one who doesn’t. Write this down. You will – eventually. Maybe not today, this week, or tomorrow, but you will. It’s inevitable. If  the stubborn coach of the Denver Broncos John Fox can throw out a playbook and hand his team iPads instead  – you know you will give in at some point.

This change is happening everywhere. You can see it unfold before your eyes. For example, I recently had breakfast at Eggspectation in Elicott City and  sitting in the foyer was a stack of newspapers. They hadn’t been touched.  My colleague Larry Luxner would have dived in the foyer and grabbed every one of those papers.  He would have missed breakfast for a good read.

The Urbanite was there along with business monthly publications and others. All I could wonder is: Why? It’s taking up walkway space. I walked by them. Unheard of a year ago. I would have consumed them like Larry, but as I looked around in the restaurant – not one person was reading a newspaper. They had their phones and iPads.

Same story when I traveled to Las Vegas, and watched for people who might actually be reading a paper on a packed plane ride. Any USA TODAY readers? New York Times? Wall Street Journal? Anyone.

Not a soul. They had tablets and laptops to read the online version of those newspapers.

The news business is not dead. The Internet didn’t kill news. It just changed the way people get the news – just like what television did to radio.  And this brings me back to my unemployed paperboy Daniel.

I was wrong earlier. Don’t blame Daniel’s job loss on the Internet. Blame it on Facebook.

Bill Gates unveiled the newspaper killer. Who needs a newspaper when you can do more with an iPad? (Photo: Courtesy of Apple)

The social media network is the news circulation department. Trucks are not needed. Facebook is doing Daniel’s job. Facebook is something my generation has struggled to accept. Take Erik’s mother, Debby, she just joined Facebook. She will be hooked in time.

It took me years to embrace Facebook or Twitter. I thought: Who really cares where someone had coffee? I used to be that way until I figured out it was more than just a social network, it was an untapped communication tool that could enhance businesses, relationships and build huge profitable networks.

My generation struggles with accepting change. Perhaps it was never said more eloquently than at my son Jesse’s recent high school graduation.  One of the commencement speakers  said the class of 2012 embraces the future while my generation is stuck in the past.

That hurt. But right on target.

I can look around my home and see it. I just got used to CDs after refusing to give up vinyl – the sound tracks of my life are still sitting in my garage.  When I started to frame some of  the LPs,  I would  find out later people aren’t really doing that anymore.  They frame CDs. I’m years behind. Everything is now in a cloud.

Go back a few more decades. I remember buying my first typewriter in college.  It was special. It could erase mistakes without using whiteout paper. I was so excited that when I showed it to my friend – he showed me his Apple computer – the Macintosh Classic. It just came out on the market. It cost about $2,000 for a 4 mb of RAM. But it was amazing for its time. You had to be there. It took me a year before I’d buy the next generation Mac – the Mac Plus.

Newspaper racks full of papers in Washington DC. Anyone reading? (Photo by Larry Luxner)

I’m slow to change and I somehow find ways to criticize the youth to justify perhaps my own generation’s stubborness. For example, musician John Mayer wrote  “Waiting for the World to Change”  and every time I heard that song, I just got angry. My generation wanted to change the world and  Mayer is waiting. How frustrating.

But Mayer, like the 2012 class, is living through changes. It’s like waiting for the train to come. It’s coming. Just embrace the wait.  The 2012 class grew up in a world of change– texting explosion, aftermath of 9-11, an African-American president and the legalizing of  gay marriages.

All of this happened in their lifetime.  They embraced it all like they embrace the latest technology, which my generation is slightly scared of. Technology to us meant job losses and fear. To the class of 2012 it means opportunities.

Newspapers perhaps are the best example of that fear.  When newspaper companies built a website, they didn’t want to invest too much into it in the early years. That meant taking money from the newspaper product and possibly cutting jobs to do that.  They used the website  to dump extra copy that wasn’t good enough for the newspaper. And then boasted to the younger generation that they were hip because they had a website.

I was among that group of scared journalists. We really didn’t know what we were doing. No one knew how to make money with a website. Advertisers didn’t know what to make of it. How can you charge the same rates or even more for an online publication when they should have been asking how can you charge such high rates for a newspaper when you can’t guarantee that readers are even reading the ad?

But having a website means that a company can tell you specifically how many readers looked at an ad  and how many readers the ad reached hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, yearly. And the owners of that website can also tell you where that audience is accessing the website from –  what country, state, and city.  They can even tell you what type of device you are using to search the website. It’s a little creepy at times to have all that information. And maybe more creepy for you to know they have that information.

Newspapers can’t do that. They are like radio without moving pictures.

Today newspapers are only now seeing the benefits of  a website.  But sadly  it’s too late for so many journalists. Thousands of jobs have been eliminated. About 3,775 newspaper jobs were lost  in 2011, according to the Paper Cuts blogBy the middle of 2007, about 39,806 newspapers jobs were cut or 11 percent of the industry. This year nearly a 1,000 more newspapers jobs have ended. We are not even done with the year.  Editors, reporters, photographers, copy editors, pressmen, sales staff,  as well as people like Daniel, the paperboy are now gone.

So what will become of newspapers in five years? Eventually they all will be gone. As two young salesmen told me at a recent party: “We are waiting for your generation to die, because then we won’t need newspapers anymore.”

It felt as if they were vultures looking down upon their prey. They will probably bury me with the last newspaper, I thought.

Are we ready for a world without newspapers? A year ago, I wasn’t. I had dreams of going back and being an editor at another daily. Today, I don’t have that dream. I’m ready to be newspaper -free.  My Scotland friend Rob Pearce, who writes a humor blog for us at Baltimore Post-Examiner,  is not too sure. He asked me a simple question: “Well, then, how do you train a puppy on the Internet?”

Funny thing, Rob,  I just found a few good websites on my iPhone that teach you that basic thing. I’ll text them to you.