You know it's bad when even Clark Kent – who is supposed to be "a mild-mannered reporter," after all – blows his stack in the Daily Planet newsroom and quits print journalism.
In this month's edition of DC Comics's recently relaunched Superman title, Mr. Kent rants about the newspaper's declining journalistic standards and walks out in front of the entire staff.
According to USA Today, Superman writer Scott Lobdell suspects that Mr. Kent – who is now just a tender 27! – won't be looking for another newspaper job: "He is more likely to start the next Huffington Post or the next Drudge Report than he is to go find someone else to get assignments or draw a paycheque from."
It may be just the latest attention-seeking gimmick from DC, which recently revamped its stable of signature superhero titles and has been adding modern touches meant tweak the noses of comic-book traditionalists and attract new readers. (Superman and Wonder Woman have actually kissed already, eww.)
But the surprise departure of the Reporter of Steel for a career as a blogger clearly has some real mild-mannered reporters feeling slightly more insecure about the future of newspapers than usual. The industry is changing fast. Some of our employers are seeking to make readers pay for online content (this newspaper included), and other new technology -- Twitter and Facebook -- have been disrupting old newsroom methods.
Now, the world's most famous newspaperman has thrown away his press pass. (Although to be frank, he was never around when big news involving Superman broke.)
Alfred Hermida, an associate professor at the University of British Columbia's journalism school who studies digital media, said the move simply depicts the changing the media landscape. Readers are becoming more likely connect to reporters and columnists not through the overall brand of their newspaper, but directly via the journalists' personal social-media feeds.
"What Clark Kent is saying is, I no longer need a company that owns a printing press," he said. "Because I have my own printing press."
It may be hard to imagine the archetypal reporter, Clark Kent, without the backdrop of a traditional newsroom, which was based by Toronto-born Superman co-creator Joe Shuster on the Toronto Star.
For some now in journalism, the stereotypical typewriter-pounding newsroom scenes in the 1978 big-screen adaptation Superman , inhaled at such a young age, were a gateway drug for a life in newsprint.
"Not only does he have a snappy, punchy prose style," says Daily Planet editor-in-chief Perry White to Margot Kidder's Lois Lane in the film, "but I swear to you that after 40 years in the business he is the fastest typist I have ever seen!"
However, Superman's comic-book writers have reflected the real-world newspaper business's preoccupations before. In the 1970s, the existential threat was television news, and Clark Kent promptly took up a job as an anchor at WGBS-TV.
Larry Tye, author of Superman: The High-Flying History of America's Most Enduring Hero, himself a former Boston Globe reporter, says almost every possible plot twist has been tried out already in Superman's 75-year history. In addition to a TV career, Clark also once worked for a Metropolis-based weekly news magazine, called NewsTime, Mr. Tye points out, and Clark also wrote several books.
"As everybody's leaving newspapers or being fired from newspapers, and looking for some online way to reinvent themselves, Clark Kent is doing the same thing," Mr. Tye said. "... As an old-fashioned newspaper reporter, I hate the idea that he is old-fashioned."
But Mr. Tye takes heart that the comic book, which comes out Wednesday, shows Clark quitting out of anger for his paper's fascination with entertainment instead of hard news: "He's always been, and even more Lois, the role models for young journalists trying to get into a noble profession. And if he is standing up for the nobility of newspapers, rather than the economics, that's a good thing."