Book Review: STOP PRESS

Just finished reading this short and punchy 'history' book, written by Rachel Buchanan.

'STOP PRESS' is one of the Published Scribe's Media Chronicles, a series of first person accounts about the changes in the mass media that we are now a part of.  I was actually sent this particular book by Crikey as part of my subscription which I am thoroughly enjoying and is probably where I get most of my Australian news from.

Shameless promotion aside, the book and the Chronicles are timely, given never-ending public lament on the death of the newspapers.  Circulation is down across almost all dailies in Australia, revenue is plummeting and it seems the grieving has begun before 'Time of Death' has even been called.

It is interesting to ask whether this is a history book or not.  Rachel's friend, quoted in the book, seems to think so.

[box] "I started to explain that I was writing about the present, about how newspapers were made now, but my friend interrupted. 'Yes it is,' she said. 'We are history Rachel. You are writing a history book.'" [/box]

Perhaps.  Buchanan chronicles the huge change in the world of newspapers over her lifetime, a change that has occurred so rapidly it is no wonder folk are blinking their eyes, shaking off twittering birds circling above their head.  The fall of newspapers has been rough and undignified in a way.  Rachel writes nostalgically of hot metal presses; proud, loyal distributors who would do anything to get the paper out on time, an entire industry devoted to reporting, writing, producing; intellectuals in their own world that are unused to this recent loss of importance.

Again, like other books and films, I become nostalgic for a time I never knew.  The world seems foreign yet romantic in a way that reminds me of period-films; movies set back in time that make you wish you were there.  Sometimes though, you realise if you were, you probably wouldn't have been living the life shown on screen.  After all, when in history were coloured people ever the ones inhabiting mansions?  Downton Abbey, for shame.

What Rachel does well is highlight that the (alleged?) death of the traditional press (if it can be called a death - after all, the book claims that the national circulation is still 11 million) does not just mean the loss of jobs for reporters and journalists, but of the entire industry around the 'press' itself.  This was an angle I had not really considered before.  Newspapers were a 'manufacturing' industry, and with the decline in manufacturing around the West generally, newspapers naturally followed suit.  The book does well here, giving life to all from the paper mills to the ink stained men working the presses and the local distributors, stuffing papers with inserts every night.

Yet, I feel there is a unnecessary conflation between the death of the newspaper and the death of 'quality journalism'.

I was born early enough in the nineties to not have grown up with the internet as integral to my life as air.  I grew up in a family that lived on newspapers; until today I pick up copies of The Australian (I do love a broadsheet) and the Financial Review (and SMH/The Age if travelling) whenever I get the chance.

However, it strikes me that all the lament is coming from those who played a role in the old world of the press.  Personally, I feel like news is news is news.  Online I can be my own curator, add to the discussion and diverse voices can be heard, and, well, that is just fine with me!

Yes, the traditional world of the press is not as ubiquitous as it used to be (in the West, the East is still a little different).  Neither is the world of vinyl, or horse driven carts.  New technology is different, but it doesn't make it any less valuable, if we treat it with the same level of respect as we did its predecessor.

The old school press might be dying, but journalism doesn't have to.  In fact, I don't think it is.

Stories that are truly investigative and revolutionary might not occur every day, but the recent Edward Snowden upheavals are examples of the fourth estate really showing why it remains a pillar.

The internet has shaken things up for the capitalist world, which thought it had its revenue streams all figured out.  In a way, I like the upheaval and the change.  It means the power has shifted - or at least, has the potential to shift - from powerful (single-demographic) men who controlled it all, including what the public saw as the truth.   Too much power with the one demographic is never really much fun.

I've never heard a person my age lament the death of the paper; we read the news on our laptops, phones, iPads and just get on with life.

Yes, things are different.  The money for editors, sub editors and the like isn't what it used to be.  The structures are changing.  Buchanan's book is a chronicle of that change.


Change brings new beginnings, and I am excited to see what we young people make it.

It's going to be a fun ride :)