Until The End of TIME
Every once in a while you come across a book that changes your life.
When I was in my early 20′s and lost, I came across In Search Of History, by Theodore White.
It set the path for the rest of my life.
White, perhaps the best known correspondent that Time Magazine then had; then being 1978.
And what a life he lived! Traveled all over the world, always first class, thanks to Time Magazine’s limitless expense accounts. Reported on the most important evens of our time, and still found the time and energy to write books like The Making of the President. What a great job.
White had started out as a poor Jewish kid, a product of the Boston public school system. But he went to Harvard (on a scholarship, studied Chinese (then a fairly esoteric exercise), and soon found himself in Beijing (or Peking as it was then known), working for Henry R. Luce and the Time Magazine Empire. It became not just his employer, but his home for many years. They provided him not only a fantastic lifestyle and a great income, but also a very powerful platform and entree to some to the most interesting moments in the 20th Century.
I was in my early 20s, out of college, having studied Arabic (then a fairly esoteric pursuit) and in Afghanistan (before anyone knew where it was).
“That’s the life for me.” I said upon finishing the book, and promptly wrote to the managing editor, who promptly turned me down.
It was just as well.
Instead I grabbed a small video camera, headed for the Gaza Strip and thought, “I can do this without Time Magazine if I have to”. It turned out ot be a prescient idea.
The life and power and prestige that Time Magazine bestowed on Teddy White and many others like him has ceased to exist.
Last week, Time announced that is was laying off 500 staffers.
Probably there are more to follow.
What was once the crown jewel, not only in the Time/Life Empire, but in the world of print journalism is but a mere shadow of its former self.
Go to a news stand and buy an issue. The staple is thicker than the magazine. It’s like a consumptive patient on their death bed, thin, deathly pale, gasping for oxygen.
It’s too bad, because the writing has never been better (IMHO).
Time was once, along with its companion publication, LIFE, the lifeblood (so to speak) of American journalism. LIFE Magazine was based on great photography. Stunning photography: from Margaret Bourke White to W. Eugene Smith and everyone inbetween. People used to wait with bated breath for each week’s issue. To be on the cover of LIFE Magazine (indeed, just to be in the copy) meant you had arrived.
Then came television, and within a very few years, LIFE Magazine was over.
Now, the web has done to Time what TV did to LIFE, made it superfluous.
It isn’t that you can now get all the content online and for free (athough that doesn’t help). It’s that in a world that is completely connected 24 hours a day, what is the point in sending a Teddy White to Beijing (or even Peking) to ‘report’ on what is ‘going on’?
What is the point when there are 1 billion people in China with smart phones and 400 million mobile we users?
This is the democratization of the media and it’s going to have as massive an impact on our world as the printing press had on democratizing writing.
What’s the value of one American Harvard graduate who took a few courses in Chinese when you have a whole nation of people who speak the language, know the history, know the culture, know the issues, have the tools to create text, video and stills and send it out instantly.
The answer would be.. none.
In fact, on the face of it, the whole idea of the ‘foreign correspondent’ looking increasingly ridiculous.
What is the value of flying Brian Williams his whole team to ‘anchor live’ from Cairo, when he doesn’t speak the language, barely knows the history or the issues?
The answer would be.. none.
So farewell Time Magazine (and no doubt soon to follow, network news shows.) You were great when the world was a much more inaccessible place.
But it isn’t.
And that is no bad thing.
NOTE: Dan Chung, photo journalist who works out of Beijing does not agree and feels that the repressive nature of the Chinese government makes it all but impossible for local Chinese to get the ‘truth’ out. As he lives there and works there, I am not going to argue.