The newspapers coming off the press is what got me.
A few weeks ago, I finally watched “The Post,” Steven Spielberg’s excellent movie about Katherine Graham, Ben Bradlee and the Washington Post’s decision to publish the Pentagon Papers in 1971. There are so many wonderful scenes for journalism nerds in the movie (which is a spiritual descendant of All The President’s Men). So many old-school newsroom moments that make your heart swell a bit.
But the newspapers coming off the press is what got me the most.
This is the scene where Graham decides to publish a story based on the Pentagon Papers. Bradlee calls the press room and says to run it (a great little thing - he doesn’t shout it triumphantly. He’s all business). The press foreman hits the button and the papers start to print.
Papers off the press were always wet. The ink hadn’t totally dried yet, so the first papers off the press were always a bit damp. I can still feel them in my hands.
It’s one of my favorite memories from my newspaper days.
A few weeks ago, Dr. Denny Wilkins — my best journalism professor at St. Bonaventure — posted a picture of a full wrack of issues of the student newspaper.
The comments that followed were sad, predictable, and often nostalgic. People lamented current college students’ apparent lack of interest in reading their campus newspaper, or how much the commenter still liked or preferred print.
I asked a question that went unanswered. What’s the newspaper’s digital readership?
In all the laments about the state of the college newspaper, why did we all assume that print is the only way to read a newspaper?
Nostalgia is a real and powerful thing. Memories are real and powerful and important to hold on to.
But nostalgia and memories can’t be a business strategy. As Jeff Jarvis once wrote, no successful business model ever began with “people should.”
There are lessons to learn from our history, of course. But to look at it with rose colored glasses is dangerous. The implicit message of The Post is that this is journalism the way it oughta be. Imagine the horror, the unspoken message goes, if Ben Bagdikian had to Tweet updates of this story?
This mindset ignores the simple fact: Digital news is better.
It is. It’s more up to date. Mistakes can be fixed quicker. Readers get informed quicker and learn more information. There are more voices (the good-old days of journalism had a lot of straight middle-aged white dudes).
Of the many mistakes the journalism industry has made in the past generation, the nostalgia of print is high among there.
Of course, there is something special about print. There are things print does better than digital. Those memories of the damp papers fresh off the press are real, and they mean something to all of us.
But when we as an industry keep lamenting what is gone in the past, when we look to the past as the way it ought to be, we miss not only the reality of the present but the possibilities of the future.