The Web whispered.
We didn’t hear it when it was born. We didn’t hear it start breathing.
The Net grew. It added links. But we weren’t listening.
The readers whispered.
They were quiet initially, in the first half of last century. That was the apex of U.S. newspaper penetration. By the 1980s, grumbling had grown. Circulation peaked.
The display advertisers whispered. We thought it was just a cyclical spat. We thought they’d come back.
The want ads whispered. They said, “See ya.” They said, “Hello” to Craig Newmark.
Globalization whispered. We reported on the factories fleeing. The trend traveled – from blue collars to white, up to offices, out to newsrooms.
We wrote our stories and put out our papers.
But while we were showing the world to our readers, we often looked at only ourselves, and not hard enough. We learned too little about filling our own gaps. We are learning late about linking together and looking outside.
The Web still whispers.
Now it also converses. But many of us don’t know the language.
And now, it shouts. Finally, we hear it.
The Web grew. And now many of us feel trapped – outside of it.
But locks can be picked. And battles should be chosen. The choice in a linear world would be to flee or fight.
But we do not have a dilemma. We have more dimensions – to freeze, follow or outfox.
I have found different years indicated for peaks of newspaper circulation and penetration, so I was deliberately vague.
The idea of “whispers” is inspired by Gene Roberts’ expression about news that “seeps and oozes.”
We largely missed the big story about our industry – or at least dealing with it well – while it was creeping up on us, before it smacked us in the face.