For a newspaper reporter, there’s something almost religious about the atmosphere of the newsroom, a worship center for the faithful of the Fourth Estate. And if the newsroom is a sanctuary, the building in which it resides is its cathedral—old, stalwart, constructed in a manner suggesting strength, permanence, resilience.
Or rather, that’s how it was in the olden days. Not so much now.
An article in the April 1 edition of The New Republic discusses yet another victim of the upheaval in print journalism: the demise of the newspaper building. Once representing the power and influence of a free press, these facilities—some dating back over a century—are now considered too big, too outmoded and too much of a barrier between journalists and the communities they cover.
“It is impossible to imagine anyone being drawn to a downtown newspaper building today to receive the words of reporters on a still-warm paper product,” writes Inga Saffron, an architectural critic. “[A]s news has ceased to be a physical commodity, so too has the big-city newspaper building lost its meaning.”
I’ve seen this happen in my hometown. Last year, the Kalamazoo Gazette moved its news center to a remodeled retail space downtown, a block away from its mammoth home of 87 years. From a practical point of view, the move made sense; the Gazette simply didn’t need all that space anymore. The newspaper had cut its staff and embraced a digital-first approach. (It still provides a daily print product generated at an out-of-town facility.)
And yet … it saddens me when I pass by that empty old building. There is so much history there, so many tales still seeping from its darkened corners. Sure, a developer has plans for the facility—thankfully, no wrecking ball—but it won’t be the same.
And that, says Saffron, is the point.
“The traditional newspaper building, with its hierarchies and tribal rituals, is a thing of the past, left over from the days when news traveled in one direction—handed down from the great newsrooms to the working masses. Nowadays news is dispersed from multiple directions and from multiple content producers, some professional, some not,” Saffron writes.
I’ve been to the new Gazette, and I admit I’m impressed by what I see. It’s an open office layout surrounded by windows that offer a view of (and by) the downtown populace. There is no sense of being removed from the heartbeat of the city. Conference rooms host everything from impromptu editorial boards to community groups to live online chats. Reporters move in and out, laptops in satchels, filing stories there or on location.
It’s new and familiar all at the same time—the old energy of community journalism expressed in a different way.
Journalism remains a field in turmoil, so time will tell if this energy has the staying power of yesteryear. But I’m hopeful even as I am nostalgic.