Former journalist Michael Bourne explains what the decline of newspapers means for writers:

“…as troubling as the death of print journalism may be for our collective civic and political lives, it may have an even more lasting impact on our literary culture. For more than a century, newspaper jobs provided vital early paychecks, and even more vital training grounds, for generations of American writers as different as Walt Whitman, Ernest Hemingway, Joyce Maynard, Hunter S. Thompson, and Tony Earley. Just as importantly, reporting jobs taught nonfiction writers from Rachel Carson to Michael Pollan how to ferret out hidden information and present it to readers in a compelling narrative.

“Now, though, the infrastructure that helped finance all those literary apprenticeships is fast slipping away. The vacuum left behind by dying print publications has been largely filled by blogs, a few of them, like the Huffington Post and the Daily Beast, connected to huge corporations, many others written by bathrobe-clad auteurs like yours truly. This is great for readers who need only fire up their laptop – or increasingly, their tablet or smartphone – and have instant access to nearly all the information produced in the known world, for free.

“But the system’s very efficiency is also its Achilles’ heel. …

“I fear we are creating a generation of riff artists, who see their job not as creating wholly new original projects but as commenting upon cultural artifacts that already exist. Whether you’re talking about rappers endlessly “sampling” the musical hooks of their forebears, or bloggers snarking about the YouTube video of Miami Heat star Shaquille O’Neal holding his nose on the bench after one of his teammates farted during the first quarter of a game against the Chicago Bulls, you are seeing a culture, as [Jaron] Lanier puts it, ‘effectively eating its own seed stock’…

“Try to imagine what would have become of Hemingway, that shell-shocked World War I vet, if he hadn’t found work on the Kansas City Star, and later, the job as a foreign correspondent for the Toronto Star that allowed him to move to Paris and raise a family. The same goes for a writer as radically different as Hunter S. Thompson, who was saved from a life of dissipation by an early job as a sportswriter for a local paper, which led to newspaper gigs in New York and Puerto Rico. All of his best books began as paid reporting assignments, and his genius, short-lived as it was, was to be able to report objectively on the madness going on inside his drug-addled head.”

Michael Bourne, The Millions

We have made it easy to comment on posts, however we require civility and encourage full names to that end (first initial, last name is OK). Please read our guidelines here before commenting.

  • Joseph D’Hippolito

    Hunter S. Thompson never was saved from a life of dissipation. He relished dissipation. He marinated himself in it. He defined himself by it. He is, arguably, the most overrated writer of the late 20th century.

  • Richard Musser

    I believe Ernie went from the The Star to the war… not the other way around. And that Toronto correspondent’s job left him wringing pigeons’ necks in Paris parks to eat. But, yes, he did give his reporter experience some props for his writing style.