Tuesday, May 12, 2009

R.I.P.: The Newspaper

As I wrote in a recent post, computers have given us a great deal, but they have also taken away some of the treasures of life, at least in my opinion. The latest that I am lamenting? The American newspaper. It's struggling mightily.

The Internet provides us instant news, around the clock. At work, whether in my actual office or my virtual one, I keep Yahoo! as my home page and at any time I can check news, weather and sports. And I do.

I hardly ever tune into network news on TV except for perhaps an occasional glance at The Today Show in the mornings at the gym or when I'm working at home. And I'll turn on CNN or Fox News if I want to follow a breaking story or during election season if I want more in-depth coverage. But NBC, ABC or CBS at 5:30 CDT? Never. But I still read the newspaper religiously. I think I am a dying breed, however.

It was so different in the world in which I grew up in South Arkansas where we received two dailies -- the local one and the statewide. For a long time there were two statewide dailies, The Arkansas Democrat and The Arkansas Gazette. They were fierce competitors and for years the Democrat was an afternoon paper. When its owners decided to go head-to-head with the Gazette it also became a morning paper and dropped the afternoon edition. In the 1980s the two became one and today it's called The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. When I go back I still love to read it because it's still a family owned paper and has wonderful local writers.

Anyway, the newspaper was sacred at my house. My dad traipsed out every morning in his robe and picked up both. If either was not there he would call the circulation desk and demand his paper. Before and during breakfast, he would read the local first, then the state one. He couldn't complete everything but he hit the high points, coming back later for a more detailed read.

When The Democrat was an afternoon paper, I remember one time I decided how much fun it would be to throw it up on the roof in its rolled-up state and let it roll off for me to catch, then repeat the process. Only after a few throws and rolls it didn't come back. When my dad got home he very methodically went and got the ladder, got up on the roof and retrieved the paper. Then he just as methodically told me what would happen if that ever happened again. Trust me, it didn't.

Our local paper had news about everything going on in our little town and years ago had what was called a "Society Section" (no longer politically correct) that had huge pictures of brides-to-be and the announcements about upcoming weddings, then when the wedding actually occurred another even bigger photo with a detailed write-up about every aspect of the event, down to the type of lace that was on the bride's dress.

In addition to reading every section, my dad also did the Jumble, which he and my mom called "The Words." "Have you done 'The Words' yet?" I can hear either of them saying to the other. Whoever did them first was not allowed to write them in. They usually both got them in short order, but sometimes one of them might get stumped and would even enlist my help. Now I do "The Words" myself almost every day and I always think of them.

My mother also did the crossword puzzle in both papers and this little word puzzle called "the Cryptoquote." She usually did all of this before about 9 a.m. over her morning coffee. She did the NY Times crossword on Sundays and that one often took her several hours. She had a dictionary that weighed about a ton that she would have to occasionally consult for help. Sudokus were not around when she was but I can assure you she would not have done those because she did not like numbers.

We loved the comics too. I could not imagine a day without Blondie, Beetle Bailey or Peanuts (even though those are reruns)

I am much like my parents. Even though I love the ease and convenience of computers and I constantly use it to get updates, I pretty much have to hold a newspaper in my hand each day. If I am in another city, I'll still pick one up.

I at least scan every section. I write occasional letters to the editor of our local paper. I sometimes embarrass Wife when she gets a call about my latest, when she did not even know I had written in. (She can't drink bottled water in public now because my most recent missive strongly criticized buying H2O when we have perfectly good liquid coming from our taps. Sorry, Hon.)

It's not just that I inherited this trait. It has just as much to do with my love affair with the written word. I started a neighborhood newspaper when I was 12, wrote for my high school and college papers and got my undergraduate degree in journalism. And of course now I have this blog.

But, as I said earlier, newspapers in this country are struggling. People have canceled subscriptions because they can get their news online so much easier, and it's free. Advertisers don't spend near the money they did at one time for print advertising. Thus, revenues have plunged. At least two papers, one in Denver and another in Seattle, have, I believe, either shut down or gone to online only. I think that's very sad.

To try to stay in business, papers have of course gone to online editions and they try to sell advertising there. Some of them charge to access their entire sites. They have cut the size of the physical papers down to where the papers are not as wide. They have combined sections and cut features. Our local paper here in Nashville no longer has TV listings during the week. Even Sunday's paper, which I used to have to carry in with both hands, is much, much, smaller.

Will we still even have newspapers 50, 60 or 70 years from now? I'm not sure, but, just like receiving a letter in an envelope in a mailbox has a quality that surpasses e-mail, so does a freshly inked newspaper give me a warm, secure feeling. I'll miss it if it dies.


Pam said...

I still subscribe to the Dallas Morning News and still enjoy my daily paper.

And that's from one who is a CNN junkie! CNN is my white noise or background music during the day when I'm home.

As much as I'm online, I don't use the Internet that much as a news source.

I will say this about my daily paper...I primarily enjoy the metro and guide sections, the local news and views.

As a CNN junkie, I'm ususally well-versed in national and international news.

Oh, and I do, at times, read the DMN online for local things.

quid said...

My parents were newspaper mavens. The Duluth morning paper (whatever was it called...sigh!) and the Hibbing Tribune at night.

I only read newspapers (as papers... I blog the NYT and Washington post) on Sunday now. It's sad to think of their demise.

Kelly said...

I also find it sad that newspapers are on the decline. We take both the local and the state papers, but I only read the local. Since we don't watch local TV news (you know how little of that is available here!) and I listen to XM radio, I have to read my paper to know what's going on in town.

We do still tune in to the national network news most evenings, but I learn more breaking news from my computer than anywhere else.

Your description of the local paper in years past brought back many memories. Amazing how the 'society page' alone has changed over the years! You may not know that our Sunday paper is now a regional, including all three towns in the "Golden Triangle" (as they like to call it). It includes the LA Times Crossword which I work on rare occasions. I do work the puzzle in the local paper each day (very easy) along with the cryptoquote and the sudoku most days. I don't like numbers, either, but sudoku is really just logic, which I do enjoy.

I hope "real" newspapers never entirely go by the wayside... or books, for that matter!! I have a friend who was showing me her 'Kindle' and extolling its virtues to me recently. I can see the advantage in some ways, but please, just give me an honest to goodness, feel it in my hands book!

Steve H. said...


Believe me...I worry about the future of the newspaper. Living here in China I was amazed when I would ask where in town I could go to buy a newspaper. A number of people looked at me quizzingly and asked why I would need one if I have the internet? Crazy! My local "Rocky Mountain News" back in Colorado went out of business and its been around for more than 100 years!!

Oh, btw, I'm having to reach you via proxy server as China has turned off our access to Blogger (and my own site). Hope its not too long