In the red corner, trenchcoat buttoned, rolled up newspaper in one pocket, a year’s worth of betting slips in the other, trilby tipped to a jaunty angle, Press card stuffed into the band, pen in hand, spiral-bound notebook on the lap, opened at a new, but grubby, page. In the blue corner, a screen, a keyboard and a Twittering bird.
He stood up, pointed his rolled-up Daily Blah at the flickering screen, unrolled it to show the screaming headline and yelled at it, even though it was an inanimate object.
What did the digital revolution EVER do for journalism? The headline proclaimed in 96pt Helvetica bold across eight columns. The by-line in 14pt Times credited Staff Reporter. The page was empty, just column rules and an advert for piles ointment. The screen blinked. The bird twittered, it sounded like a laugh.
Of course nothing like that happened at the We Publish event in Leeds last night. The Question Time-style panel of Guardian Local editor Sarah Hartley, Nigel Barlow, co-founder of the independent online news site Inside the M60 and Emma Bearman, creator of the fabulous blog The Culture Vulture got along famously with the audience of assorted bloggers, journalists and folk who do clever stuff with websites. Well, all the audience except the guy with the Daily Blah.
I worked it out, it’s 30 years since I qualified as a journalist and got my Press card, though they’d run out of trilbies and trenchcoats. Stories were handwritten at first, until cub reporters were finally trusted with a typewriter. It was some years before computers emerged, in the meantime, stories were dictated word for word over the telephone from my little district office. Journalists were well paid, and well respected (seriously!). Newspapers sold in their tens of thousands and everyone wanted to give us stories because there was nowhere else where they could be told.
That was then, this is now. Newspaper sales have fallen, the interweb has taken over as the breaker of news and anyone who wants to can write about anything that comes into their heads and with the click of a button make it available for the world to see. I’m not lamenting the loss of my my noble profession, it’s still there, it’s just different. Good journalists will always be needed, printed newspapers may not.