But as we entered the new century, something odd happened. Sept. 11 was part of it: I started surfing the Web that day in a desperate search for breaking news … and never really left. Then one day I noticed, while taking out the recyclables, that the can was filled with a week's worth of San Jose Mercury-News (and San Francisco Chronicles), all of them unopened. I realized that this had been going on for months.
It was that realization that led me to write one of these ABC columns. In it, after noting my change of reading behavior, and confirming that the same thing was happening to my friends (including a two-time Pulitzer winner), I took the bold step of predicting the death of newspapers.
Looking back, I was the first person in the mainstream media to do so, beating Rupert Murdoch (whose speechwriter apparently read my column) by a matter of weeks. Murdoch caught most of the flak, but I got my share.
Well, needless to say, what was apostasy then is a commonplace now. Every quarter now, the newspaper industry announces the latest distressing financial news. Last week, the Newspaper Association of America announced that print advertising at U.S. newspapers sank 9.4 percent in 2007. It is a vicious downward spiral that has now begun to infect the magazine industry as well. I'm on a Merc alumni e-mail list, and every few months I get another sad message of major layoffs at the paper -- the most recent, a couple weeks ago, excised some of the paper's oldest veterans, folks who'd been loyal employees since my days at the paper. And I regularly get personal e-mails from old friends in the newspaper biz, asking about job opportunities, requesting recommending letters and saddest of all, predicting the imminent shuttering of the Merc.
So, it was with a certain sadness and nostalgia that I thumbed through the Mercury-News business section this morning and what surprised me was not what was being lost, but how little there was left to lose.
Just a handful of stories to cover the most influential business community on the planet -- this wasn't a disappointment anymore, but an insult to advertisers and readers. And, losing readers, advertisers and classified ads, shrinking its news hole, having lost most of its veteran reporters, and reducing itself to a skeleton staff, the Merc had little choice now but to make its coverage even thinner, the insult to its remaining readers ever greater.
After glancing at the paper for a few seconds, I tossed it back on the pile, not out of disappointment or anger, but indifference. Nothing had caught my eye, or held my interest. I had far better things to do -- like going home and surfing the Web for news.
On Tuesday, the Pulitzer Prizes will be announced. And if they are anything like last year, the journalism awards will go to the usual collection of dying newspapers: the Oregonian (which my great-grandfather helped found), the L.A. Times (where my grandmother was one of the first women in the newsroom), the Miami Herald, and Newsday. There will be the usual flurry of media, and then those newspapers will go back to dying.
Meanwhile, the people who should be the winners of these awards will be ignored -- indeed, many aren't even eligible. For example, after I tossed the Merc aside and drove home, I went on the Web and read a fabulous entry in a blog called Kaboom by a soldier known only as "Lt.G." It was some of the best first-person reporting I've read all year.