It was always my intention that, when I finally grew up, I would be a journalist. For much of my teenage years, I didn’t have the faintest idea what I wanted to do for a living. Then I found out that I wanted to write. As I approach my bus pass, I am able to write, albeit not for money, but it’s too late to become a journalist in the conventional sense, because newspapers, certainly the paper versions, are dying.
Among my friends are ex journalists who probably started out with the hot metal men, long before computerisation changed the world. Computerisation and the internet. How I used to love the Bristol Evening Post “Green Un” on a Saturday night, our own mainly football paper which would arrive at news stands barely an hour before the game we had seen had ended. I now know it was old technology, men sweating over the presses, working flat out to produce a paper in a matter of minutes. Whilst much of the paper was pre-prepared, much had just happened. It was an amazing feat.
I grew up not just with newspapers but football and music magazines. This was my internet. Obscure football news and gig guides. I couldn’t Google because Google was a million miles away, the internet something we could only imagine. What a difference a few decades can make. If I couldn’t find something, it would be in my Rothmans Book of Football or the Guinness Book of Hit Singles.
With newspapers and magazines dying a death, everything will be found on the worldwide web. Hopefully, I will still be able to read my favourite writers like Clive James, Andrew Rawnsley, Rafael Behr, John Crace, Nick Cohen – you know: the usual soggy, liberal left types who all write the way I long to. But the best quality writing is slowly being buried, swamped perhaps, by the explosion of blogs like this one.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. I will never attract sufficient money through blogging to subsidise my modest civil service pension and I have long come to terms with this. In the years between being a teenager and late middle age, I only dabbled. I wrote when it suited me, usually for office magazines or satirical, local magazines. And later through blogging which I started and then finished many times, before starting a real one – this one – in 2014.
I am now the man who drives a steam engine after a lifetime counting paper clips. I am the man who has finally gets round to buying a motorcycle after years of catching the bus to work. It is not my midlife crisis: it is what I always wanted to do.
In recent weeks I have met and corresponded with men who will be among the last proper journalists who write, or rather wrote, for newspapers. Local newspapers are in a state of near collapse everywhere. Bath has a weekly newspaper, the Bath Chronicle, London has a free newspaper, the Evening Standard. Bristol still has the Bristol Post, but for how much longer? The stories I hear about its decline and near fall are almost tragic. What if all you ever wanted to do was write for a living and you saw that life taken away from you. And then you scrabbled around trying to find some other way of utilising your writing skills and discovered there was pretty much nothing left? It must really hurt.
I love great writing as others enjoy great music, art and all the rest of it. A great writer can take you to where he is and where he writes about, opening their mind to open yours. It is a beautiful thing.
I read two newspapers now, the Guardian and its sister paper the Observer. I cannot imagine life without them. But someday soon I will have to. These two titles are the only two genuinely independent newspapers in the land, not owned or influenced by very rich men and rich companies and they are losing a fortune. If they survive – and it is becoming a big “if” – they will surely end up behind a pay wall and I have a suspicion that once behind a paywall, they won’t last for long. People like their news for free and I don’t think that will change anytime soon, if ever.
It is becoming increasingly unlikely that I will become the music reviewer for the Bristol Post, or be commissioned to write essays about this, that and the other. If no one is buying music these days, why would they want to read about it anyway?
Time waits for no man or woman and soon the written word, certainly by way of newspapers, will be dead. We are still in the stone age of technology and automation. The things I see as cutting edge, new technology are the norm for the new generation. The death of newspapers will mean the death of journalism as we know it. I find that very sad, but being sad won’t stop change. The hot metals were laid to rest half a lifetime ago. I hope that good writing will survive its loss.