I believe future historians will mark the demise of the Fourth Estate as the beginning of the end of Democracy in America as we know it. I came to newspapers early, as an insatiable kid and haven’t been able to shake a deep-rooted love of them since.
I graduated from UNC’s School of Journalism in 1975. To give you some idea of how long ago that was, from a technology perspective, know that we were still using pica sticks. A computer class meant lugging around Coca- Cola-crate-sized boxes of paper punch cards.
But even in that relative Stone Age, we practically memorized E. B. White’s The Elements of Style, studied newspaper history and First Amendment case law to death and had drilled into our heads a mantra–get it right, be fair, never violate a confidence, and don’t pick a fight you can’t win.
Many of my classmates have advanced this honorable profession with distinction around the world. Many of them run what’s left of the nation’s best newspapers today, and, I am sure, must wake every morning in a state of fear, dread, and bewilderment.
Bob, your idea of some sort of electronic consortium here in Virginia is a good one. It occurs to me that newspapers, if they are to survive at all, must adopt a public interest, non-profit business model, perhaps some print equivalent to National Public Radio. Long-term, it is in our interest, the national interest, and Democracy’s interest that they survive.