Captain Quint: “Japanese submarine slammed two torpedoes into our side, chief… Just delivered the bomb, the Hiroshima bomb. Eleven hundred men went into the water. Vessel went down in twelve minutes. Didn’t see the first shark for about half an hour. Tiger. Thirteen-footer. … Very first light, chief, sharks came cruising, so we formed ourselves into tight groups… you know, kind of like old squares in a battle like you see in a calendar, like the battle of Waterloo, and the idea was, shark comes to the nearest man and then you start pounding and hollering and screaming. Sometimes the shark goes, sometimes he wouldn’t go away… I don’t know how many sharks. Maybe a thousand, I don’t know how many men, they averaged six an hour.
On Thursday morning, Chief, I bumped into a friend of mine, Herbie Robinson from Cleveland. Baseball player. Boatswain’s mate. I thought he was asleep. I reached over to wake him up. Bobbed up, down in the water just like a kinda top. Upended. Well, he’d been bitten in half below the waist…Noon the fifth day…a Lockheed Ventura saw us, he swung in low… and three hours later a big fat PBY comes down, starts to pick us up…
So, eleven hundred men went into the water, three hundred and sixteen men come out and the sharks took the rest, June 29th 1945. Anyway, we delivered the bomb.”
Robert Shaw, Jaws
When the Good Ship Printjournalism was torpedoed just off the coast of Profitability thousands of journalists went into the water and huddled together in tight groups, clinging to the lifeboats of the online editions. Not too long after first light the sharks came cruising. The guys on the outside pounded and hollered and screamed and sometimes the sharks would go away…sometimes they didn’t. One by one journos were picked off and sank to a watery grave. There just wasn’t room for everyone in the lifeboats.
Similar stories of carnage are commonplace across hundreds of professions—shops and stores are shut down while the company continues trading online with a fraction of the staff. Tens of thousands of workers in small factories, dispatch depts, counting houses, accounts offices and production lines have been let go as technical advances in web transactions and processing speeds have left many redundant. Business and Commerce have caught a cold before, but this is a pandemic.
We can’t walk around with hammers like 21st Century Luddites; We can’t uninvent the wheel or even the web—not that anyone wants to—we just need Baldrick’s Cunning Plan and the nouse to navigate the way ahead. The way we work and live is changing so fast that those of us still shooting film and playing 45s are often taken by surprise by the mp3 generation, but we can (and do) sit, watch and marvel at the little bits of the New World we manage to understand. I know how to work an ipod, for example, and I’m aware of Google (and who he plays for). If it wasn’t for Tim Berners-Lee‘s pretty smart idea you wouldn’t be reading this. The web can also be entertaining.
But there’s plenty of collateral damage in this Guerre du Gigabyte. Those once-merry stokers belowdecks on HMS Old Media are having to rethink and retrain as the ship is holed below the water line and the lifeboats are manned by a new breed of young whizz-kids and tech-heads. Some of the old seadogs are lucky enough to have been thrown an oar and asked to keep rowing— trouble is there used to be three-times the men manning the rollocks. Some are asked to row, steer and chart a course all at the same time. Shore leave gets cancelled or reduced as the Admiralty hasn’t left itself a full ship’s compliment. The few who are left keep schtum (on the whole) for fear of being tossed overboard. Many of the others already in the water were hit by the Credit Crunch Tsunami before they had a chance to get their Mae Wests on. Many a bloated and battered body of an ex-journo has been washed up on the shores of the world’s job centres.
Newspaper and magazine publishers invest more and more cash into their online vessels while barely pumping the bilges of their old, ailing craft. They tell us that one day soon the advertisers will change tack, buy some ads (online or in print—we don’t mind) cruise over in their big, fat PBY and fish us out of the shark-infested waters of recession, but I see no ships. Til then we’re surrounded by friends and colleagues bobbing up and down in the water, having been bitten in half below the waist by an HR missive, or a redundancy notice. Sooner or later someone will realise they can’t leave the tiller in the hands of the Unable Seamen and Very Petty Officers, the green and the graceless. But I fear by the time that it dawns on them all the old hands will be enjoying their grog in Davey Jones’ Lock-in.
Thankfully there are still some Captains willing to hand out commissions but there are not nearly enough lifejackets to go round. The Fleet has been scuppered after nearly 300 years of ruling the waves while across the journalism’s seven seas newspaper after newspaper takes a hit and goes under with all souls lost. Anyway, we delivered the bomb.
Farewell and adieu unto you Spanish ladies,
Farewell and adieu to you ladies of Spain;
For it’s we’ve received orders for to sail for old England,
But we hope very soon we shall see you again.