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Tough questions

BY KURT CUNNINGHAM | APRIL 17, 2009 7:30 AM

Since the start of this year, I have heard professors and colleagues of mine harp about the declining newspaper industry. They ask such questions as “where will all the graduates of Iowa’s journalism program find themselves?,” “will there be any jobs out there?,” and, most importantly, “how will Americans consume their news?”

All the while I have tried to stay optimistic, telling myself not to worry because events such as these have occurred in the past and it all worked out for the better.

Heck, when TV news first hit the airwaves, radio stations felt the pressure of a new medium rising up to take its place. And, look, both liberals and conservatives still have their radio rants.

Yet with papers such as the Gazette in Cedar Rapids restructuring its news staff and laying off people by the hundreds, I can honestly say the fear of finding an actual job in my beloved print medium is looking somewhat grim.

Even more bad news.

On the national level, earlier this year Denver’s Rocky Mountain News closed its doors after 150 years in print. And the Seattle Post-Intelligencer flipped the switch to its printing press, which had run for 146 years.

In fact, just this afternoon I was reading the New York Times and happened to glance past a headline in the business section that read, “In Boston, Paper’s Peril Hits a Chord.”

The Boston Globe, after 137 years in business, was given an ultimatum from its owner, The New York Times Co.: Take deep cuts or close your doors.

With Google continuing to flourish as a news aggregator, distributing news stories here and there for free, the period in which individuals receive their news from just one provider is coming to an end.

I am beginning to think considering different professions might not be a bad idea.

If I had to, I could probably get by doing manual labor. I have always had a strong and oddly weird obsession with flannel shirts, especially the way Al Borland from “Tool Time” can get away with wearing one every day.

In fact, my favorite fable growing up involved Paul Bunyan, the strangely tall, ruggedly handsome lumberjack who had to be carried in by three storks because he was so large.

The only real problem I foresee in moving to Alaska — and I am discounting that Sarah Palin lives in the state and honestly felt that her proximity to Russia and Canada made her an expert in foreign relations — is the cold weather and demand for thick skin. Even under several layers of warm cloths, my meager frame of 150 pounds freezes in Midwest winters.

Not to mention that paper seems to be becoming a less favorable material. Information is beginning to move to the Internet as schools such as the UI make strides in the marathon of making the campus “green.”

Sigh, yet another industry I foresee laying off hard workers with long breads.

I could try to bring the days of the Wild West back. Not only would the flannel shirts I buy for Alaska work on a ranch in Texas, I could wear a 10-gallon hat, tight Wranglers, and cowboy boats — similar to another secret hero of mine, John Wayne.

Though I know the ranching business is not what it used to be and the industry is in decline as well, demand for cattle that grow up on healthy land and not feed lots is higher now than ever.

Not unlike the newspaper business, the cattle industry in the United States needs restructuring.

Maybe a real life John Wayne can provide just that for this country.

Still, I am apprehensive to tackle this industry and develop a new business model because I remember my days of riding horses on my uncle’s ranch. While I’m still young, I do not think my legs can take several full days of riding a horse.

Also, the fear of being decapitated because of a mix-up in the increasing drug-related violence across the boarder worries me a bit. As the death toll nears 7,000 and Mexico is reporting more drug-related deaths just this year alone than any other tells me Texas may not be for me.

I guess in the end I can always fall back on living at home until I am 30 and waiting out the storm. Or I guess I could open my own gun shop and sell weapons to Mexican drug cartels for a living. Both have great potential.


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