By James A. Haught
I’ve been a newspaperman for 67 years. I began in 1951 as a teenage hot-lead printer trainee at West Virginia’s Charleston Daily Mail. I developed a yen to be a news reporter, so I volunteered to work without pay in the Daily Mail newsroom on my days off from the print shop.
(I had a noble motive: I thought it would impress girls if I was a journalist.)
In 1953, the rival Charleston Gazette offered a writing job, and I’ve been at the paper ever since – except for a few months in 1959 when I was press aide to the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va. I was the Gazette’s investigative reporter 13 years, then became editorial page editor and columnist. Now I’m mostly retired, keeping a little office and the title editor-emeritus. Our two Charleston papers combined, then went bankrupt, and now continue with a shrunken staff.
I’ve seen it all: the transition from molten lead printing to electronic “cold type” to the amazing digital age that consumes the world. Mostly, I’ve watched the collapse of American newspapers, a relentless disintegration wrought by computers and the Internet.
Here’s a math lesson that will boggle your brain: In mid-2018, Pew Research reported that the number of U.S. newspaper newsroom jobs fell dramatically in a decade – from 71,000 in 2008 to 39,000 in 2017.
Meanwhile, other statistics say the Internet today contains nearly 500 million “blogs” on every imaginable topic. Each blog requires a writer – while some “collaborative blogs” have teams of several writers each.
Therefore, perhaps a half-billion writers expound via the Internet today, while just 39,000 still write for American newspapers. That’s around 15,000 Internet writers for every one U.S. newspaper writer. Of the planet’s 7 billion people, one of 14 writes on the Internet. They make the number of newspaper writers seem like a microscopic speck.
I’m almost embarrassed to reveal that, at age 86, I’ve joined the half-billion bloggers, venturing beyond newspapers into the Internet ocean.
During my long career, I’ve always freelanced, churning out 11 books and 140 magazine essays – mostly in the skeptic-agnostic “free thought” field. I’m an unpaid senior editor of Free Inquiry magazine. Last year, I earned $500 monthly as “writer-in-residence” for the United Coalition of Reason. After that gig ended, I became a weekly blogger for the Daylight Atheism portal of Patheos, the world’s largest religious commentary site. I’m paid $2 for each 1,000 readers. No checks yet. My essays are picked up and re-posted on various other sites.
With thousands of newspaper jobs vanishing, we longtime hacks are in purgatory. A rare few can earn significant incomes from cyber-writing. Others, like me, mostly retired, can accept trivial pay while using the vast Internet – the massive medium of mankind – to continue crusading.
James Haught is editor emeritus of West Virginia’s largest newspaper, The Charleston Gazette-Mail. He also is a senior editor of Free Inquiry magazine and writer-in-residence for the United Coalition of Reason. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.