The state of writing, and music, and film, like anything else, is all in how you choose to look at it. In every challenge lies an opportunity, if you choose to use it.
Take journalism, for example. Everyone is saying that the internet is killing newspapers, along with radio and network TV. It is, in fact, killing big metro newspapers; or to be more specific, they are killing themselves by being too bloated and slow to adapt to the changing needs of their audience. Online reader programs, social media, phone apps, all the rest and more to come, are in reality just additional ways to tell a story.
While journalism schools are wailing at students that their chosen career is ceasing to exist, what I like to tell students is that there has never been such a time of opportunity for budding journalists.
A decade ago, news was tied to giant million-dollar presses, satellites and studios, with no room for entrepreneurs. Most often it would take an upwardly mobile journalist at least half their career to have an opportunity to slowly advance from obits or fielding sports scores to the point where ownership or creative control of product was remotely feasible.
Today, a teenager could publish a niche newspaper, newsletter or magazine from the back seat of their car, needing little more than a cheap laptop computer and a run-of-the-mill smartphone to start doing it.
The journalism field is fluid, rapid, changing at the speed of light - but some things will never change: good writing is still good writing; it is of value, and those who can really do it are capable of changing minds and changing the world. Good photographers still evoke emotion and awe. Understanding of the world around us, on our block, or across the globe, is still a necessity - it just may need to be delivered differently.
Today, when there is a major happening in Storm Lake, we'll have the bones of it out on Facebook to thousands of readers within seconds. We'll have it fleshed out on our website, so people anywhere in the world with an interest in Storm Lake will access it long before we could get a paper mailed into their hands. And as always, the full story takes on a face and a life in the printed page, where it can be digested at the reader's own pace - perhaps even subjected to the ultimate honor in our field... being cut out and stuck to the refrigerator with a Hello Kitty magnet.
Technology is not the death of news; this is the most exciting time to be a storyteller since Johnnes Gutenberg nailed together his first press.
New ways, new options, new speed, new audiences - it is all out there waiting.
One form of news delivery does not have to kill all the others - but it all does have to work together seamlessly to give people what they want and need.
Huge papers are dying because they can't figure out what their role is - are they national, state, regional news products? They can't decide, and they try to do it all with pure heft... and, as one must when presuming to be everything to everyone, they eventually fail or become too expensive. By the time the wholesale staff layoff comes, it's too late.
We know what we are. We're Storm Lake and Buena Vista County's paper. All of our energy goes into that. As long as there are readers here who care about their communities, who want to know and think and impact, we will keep right on doing what we do. Perhaps formats and delivery means will change... and change. In ways we can't even imagine yet. But accuracy, fairness, truth, good writing - we believe are still the foundation of our craft.
So, what about music?
The internet is "killing" that too, we hear. Super rich pop groups are losing millions because people no longer go to stores and buy a recorded product. The home CD cabinet is going the way of the eight-trax player, VCR, and all the rest. And why not? People no longer have to buy a 12-song recording to get one song they want to hear.
They can buy exactly what they want on line, sample it from the group's own website, check the video leaked on YouTube, trade a hot track with a friend via email or Facebook, see the song being recorded on Instagram, review it in seconds on Twitter, or, probably, outright pirate it via any number of sources.
You can think of the handful of super big-name pop groups or the handful of big record labels as being like the handful of big newspapers or TV networks. They are dinosaurs headed toward extinction, too big and too slow to adapt. It stinks to be them. The monopoly is over.
But, remember our premise. Where there is challenge, there is opportunity.
As in journalism (and art, films, novels, photography, poetry, commentary, et al), what is fatal for some entrenched fatcats is a chance for the new and young with different ideas to express themselves and thrive.
Technological change is a sliver of light for bands that in the past might never have gotten heard outside a small neighborhood bar... strike the right chord at just the right time, and you can be international in 24 hours' time.
Instead of a few megarich arena bands dominating what we hear on outmoded pop radio, we have thousands of fresh artists being heard, which open the doors for risk, rebellion and creativity - which is, after all, what music is all about.
To be honest, music, like all the arts, could use a good shaking up anyway. Let the authenticity be heard.
Filmmakers will still make their first movies. Poets will still write their sonnets. Novelists will still bare their souls. Singers will still capture angst and glory. Reporters will still open our eyes. None of that will change. The creativity, the talent and ambition comes from the heart, not the computer. Only the way we share the talents has changed, and will continue to.
It's a lousy time to be a dinosaur. But it's a great time to be ambitious and curious with something to say.