"We Used to Hang Up on our Readers"

San Jose Mercury News executive editor Susan Goldberg made a graduation speech at Medill School at Northwestern University, that says a lot about the newspaper business…now and in the future.

“News is now – or anytime I want it. And not because I’m an editor – a news gatekeeper, with some special source. Now, there are no more gatekeepers; real people have the same privileges and access I do.

That change — news anytime, anywhere, available to anyone — is profoundly re-shaping our industry, turning what were once-a-day readers into real-time viewers and listeners of streaming video, audio, multimedia and online graphics.

The impact of this will affect each of you. It means that while my career has been a lot like those of the generations who came before me, your career will be far, far different.

My life has been ordered by the rhythms of a daily, morning newspaper. We wake up late, go to bed late and do it all over again the next day. The cycle never really varies, barring the kind of catastrophe that causes us to print an extra – a twice-in-a-career occurrence for me.

Now, there is no industry-defined news cycle. The cycle is the outbreak of news.

Newsrooms used to be noisy, smelly places. There was the clatter of typewriters, when I started. The intoxicating odor of the rubber cement we used to paste the pages of our stories together. The whoosh of the pneumatic tubes whisking that copy away to the backshop.

In my career, we told our readers what was important and when they disagreed, we used to hang up on them. The fact is, we didn’t care what our readers thought; we knew best – and we had the power of an information monopoly to prove it.

Our circulation didn’t grow, but didn’t fall much either. Advertising paid the bills and our big bosses – the storied companies and families that owned us – got rich. There was no such thing as a hostile takeover. “