There are two interesting trends unfolding in our society right now that run parallel to each other but are not necessarily related. Both are, to me at least, unexpected.

In both instances, people who had been highly critical have since, for various reasons, reversed course and become staunch defenders.

On the one hand, there’s the surge of support and even sympathy for the troubles that newspapers are facing now, and from many of the very individuals who were most critical of newspapers in the past – the ones who lambasted The Atlanta Journal-Constitution for its “left-wing bias” and other such stuff.

Even a well-known Atlanta talk show host who rarely if ever has anything good to say about the AJC has been on the record several times recently showing genuine concern for the demise of newspapers as we know them.

Even the alternative media that usually criticize the AJC, such as Creative Loafing, have expressed alarm at the thought of a newspaperless Atlanta (I don’t mean to suggest that some of CL’s past commentary about the AJC has not been warranted).

If anyone doubts the level of concern among the public at large about the AJC’s future, just take a look at the paper’s website blog, where literally hundreds have responded with their thoughts – some of them quite profound.

Before I go any further, let me tell you the other, parallel phenomenon. It goes like this: Generations of Americans have criticized this nation for its “greedy capitalism” and “unabashed consumerism” that left us with a society where rewards are unfairly distributed between rich and poor. We make commodities of everything and buy too much to the exclusion of, shall we say, more spiritual and lofty goals.

gcshopperme8But lo and behold, our current administration in Washington, the most openly liberal in decades, has identified consumers as the very people we desperately need to save our sagging economy. Technically, there is not enough “demand” to support the “supply” of goods and services our economy produces, which has resulted in layoffs, rising unemployment, spending cuts and general anxiety about the future.

All of a sudden, legions of commentators and analysts are harking back to the Great Depression as a model for how to cure the problem: namely, if consumers won’t spend, the government can, UNTIL consumers start buying again!

As for newspapers (bear with me, there’s not much more), what’s happening is that people who have taken the press for granted lo these many years are waking up to the prospect that maybe there won’t be a major daily in Atlanta at some point, and they have a gut feeling that, maybe, that it would be a bad thing.

The problem, of course, is that it may be too late for these reformed readers to do anything about it, since the economic realities that threaten newspapers are daunting. Obviously some people don’t care, and bid newspapers “good riddance.” But I wonder if even those people don’t harbor at least a regret that, without the newspaper, what will they rant and rail against in the future?

On the consumer track, critics of our “materialistic” culture do have something to offer, namely money. And frankly, the reportereconomy will work itself out of this recession sooner or later. It always has, as I have had the privilege of reporting several times in my 40 years as a business writer.

People will get tired of going without, with eating at home, with cutting back, with wearing old clothes and driving old cars, and gradually start spending again. I don’t for a minute buy the argument that our society is going through some fundamental transition into a “less is more” culture, now that we have tasted prosperity.

Unfortunately, down the road, these new and renewed spenders will have to get their news from computers and television and iPods and whatever else, without printed daily newspapers to peruse at leisure. And as they read their laptops, you have  to think they will wonder what sort of bad things are going on at City Hall or elsewhere that they don’t know about, because there are no newspaper reporters any more.


Tom Walker

Born in Spartanburg, South Carolina Aug. 11, 1935, Tom Walker graduated from the University of South Carolina and did post-graduate work at UCLA. He started work at The State newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina in 1958 and later worked for The Columbia Record, the afternoon half of the State-Record Co., covering politics, courts, police and civil rights in the '60s. After a little more than a year at the Los Angeles City News Service, a local news wire service in L.A., he joined The Associated Press in Charlotte, North Carolina. In February 1967, he came to The Atlanta Journal and was persuaded (forced?) to take the job as real estate editor. When the then-business editor left in 1970 Tom became business editor. When the Journal and Atlanta Constitution staffs merged in the '80s he became a staff writer, a post he held until leaving for a career as a free-lance writer in 2007.

  1. Doug Cumming

    Has the AJC considered improving the quality of its website (more like “Like the Dew” or “Atlanta Unfiltered” perhaps? requiring names from commenters is one idea), and then seeing if some of its multitude of un-paying readers are willing to pay a little something for it? It won’t be easy, and the AJC can’t do it alone, of course. There needs to be a national summit of newspaper editors and publishers. (The once-powerful American Society of Newspaper Editors, which canceled its annual conference this year, could join with the APME, ANPA, NAA, SPJ. . .everybody in the club.) We have a big problem here, folks.
    What needs saving is not necessarily newspapers or “journalism,” both of which will continue to change, shrink some, grow some, digitize, surprise and metastasize. What needs serious attention is good reporting, and good editing, and news judgment. Those practices take a whole lot of money (but maybe need less profit than newspaper companies saw in the 1980s and 90s) and I think they need something like big-city newsrooms, a central place where the practices evolved and were transmitted from one generation of news people to the next. Most people are ignorant of these practices, but now have a creeping sense that these are somehow vital to public life.

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