Thursday, January 10, 2008

Days of Future Passed

Journalists confront a rapidly changing world

By Thomas Kunkel

Thomas Kunkel (, president of AJR, is dean of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.

When you slipped through that swinging door from the cramped newsroom to the expansive composing room, it was almost like you were walking into a factory. And in a sense, you were – a news factory.

Thirty minutes before deadline and it was a noisy hurly-burly, with men – ladies need not apply, not that they'd wish to – moving about quickly yet gracefully. It was all part of a well-practiced choreography. Big, boxy tables carrying the next day's pages were wheeled around the floor. Copyboys and anxious page editors darted in and out. On the room's perimeter linotype operators banged out type for deadline stories. Cigarette smoke crowded out the oxygen.

Like steamfitters and mechanics, these were men working with metal, and they took pride in that. Metal slivers of type were painstakingly locked into metal pages that would be made into the metal plates that in turn were strapped to that leviathan of metal that was the printing press.

Night after night the compositors went about their jobs, grumbling about this and that. But it was the innocuous grumbling of people secure in their jobs. Not long after he stumbled into this fascinating netherworld, however, even a callow teenager could tell that the vibe in the place was starting to shift. There was a gnawing sense of worry, which in time would give way to dread. It was change coming, big change. [...]

Of course, a few years later the printers would be gone altogether, casualties of the electronic age.

Now many professional journalists find themselves nursing a comparable sense of dread. Will the rapidly evolving news industry one day make them as anachronistic as the compositors they grew up with? As I heard one reporter put it recently, referencing Billy Joel's song about the demise of steel industry jobs, are they on the verge of being "Allentowned"? [Click for MORE]

Sphere: Related Content

No comments: