Fighting Words

Journalists are worrywarts. We worry about toxins in the drinking water, graft at City Hall, opposition leaders in countries you’ve never heard of and the rotator cuffs of journeyman pitchers. We worry about greenhouse gasses, decorum in the Senate, childhood obesity, abandoned pets and the fall lineup on ABC. If there’s an asteroid headed in our general direction, if too many Harvard students are making A’s, if long-distance truckers aren’t sleeping enough, we worry. When gas prices are low, we worry about SUVs smashing defenseless sedans. When gas prices are high, we worry about the effect of the SUV sales slump on GM’s bottom line. We worry about floods when it rains and drought when the sun shines.

And still there is time to worry about ourselves. Journalists worry like mad about the fate of our own particular jobs. For more than 20 years, roughly since the dawn of the desktop computer, people have been telling us that micro-chips are going to put us in the soup kitchens. For a while, we could console ourselves with the fact that computers were heavy and had to be plugged into a wall. But now people get video on their portable phones, and . . . well, that’s worrisome, if you’re in the business of producing neatly folded stacks of dried wood pulp printed with columns of readable ink stains.

Readers may think we in the press are arrogant and out of touch, but that’s just an act. Really we’re sick with anxiety about the Death of Print. What began with the Gutenberg Bible often seems to be headed for an ignominious and fast-approaching end, around 2009, with the publication of the last printed work guaranteed to find a market: Mitch Albom’s The Five Diets You’ll Be on in Heaven.

Who’s going to finish us off? Currently, we’re worried about bloggers. —David Von DrehleFighting Words (Washington Post (will expire))

At first, I thought this was just a gimmick article that pitted a liberal blogger and a conservative blogger against each other, a fringe freakshow orchestrated to show the world how nutty the blogosphere is. But the article treats both bloggers with respect, and offers some very candid and insightful reflection about the American psyche.

Filing this one to show my “Newswriting” students this fall. (The link will expire soon, so if you want it, download a copy now… It’s really worth reading.)