Don’t Let Newspapers Die

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I love this picture. It covers one wall in my favorite old haunt back in Raleigh. I’ve looked into the faces of those boys many times, wondering who they were and what happened to them. They make me long for a time when the newspaper was a sacred thing. A time when the smell of newsprint, the sound of a press running and the thud of the morning edition hitting your front porch were a vital, comforting part of the fabric of this country. But sadly, it seems those days, like these boys, are long gone.aleqm5gc9hcnchigavcjbletzvidacpppaToday, the Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News announced they’d end daily home delivery, making them the first metropolitan newspapers in the U.S. to do so. You know what that means? No more paper boys.

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Last week, the Tribune Company, which owns The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Cubs and various other newspapers, filed for bankruptcy.

times1And The New York Times, the nation’s paper of record, announced it would borrow $225 against its new building to ease cash flow problems.

The newspaper I used to work for has laid off probably half of my former co-workers and folded the section I once wrote for, the weekend entertainment tab, into the Friday daily section. The newspaper I currently freelance for has offered buyouts to staffers and significantly cut budgets. Cuts like these are happening at newspapers, big and small, all across the country.

And all of this breaks my heart.

Maybe I’m biased, but I think we need newspapers. Sure, the internet’s fast. And television is flashy. But the internet gets things wrong in its mad dash to throw the news up instantly. And television news only has so long to talk about one story, they can’t tell you the whole story.

But newspapers can. They can draw you into a big story with a 64-point font headline, but they can also keep you reading with details and perspective that you just can’t get anywhere else. They can dazzle you with an inventive, creative layout, and they can break your heart with a gut-wrenching story told  with poignancy and humanity. They tell the stories you clip, and print the editions you keep–becoming time capsules of days gone by. Not to mention, reading a newspaper, unlike reading online, is far less likely to ruin your eyes.

And the people who work at papers, for the most part (and contrary to popular stereotypes), care about their readers. And they care about the stories they tell. I still hold a special place in my heart for each and every  character I’ve met along my own journey as a reporter. And every letter or email from a reader, whether good or scathingly bad, I’ve not only read, but kept. Because it’s important. The news is important. The stories of people are important. And most reporters hold a feeling of reverence for their duty in telling these very important things.

newsboy_little_fattieSo, what’s my point? Newspapers matter. And to let them die is to let an important part of our history, and our society, die. That’s something I’m just not ready to do.

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9 responses to “Don’t Let Newspapers Die

  1. But sadly, the corporate newspaper people are ready to let them die. Because they’re so damn profit-driven. Or, more specifically, they want profits like they had 20 years ago before the Internet. They refuse to believe that isn’t possible. So they drive their paper into the ground by making cuts and reducing quality. Then doing it again when that doesn’t “work.”

    I still love newspapers, too. But newspapers don’t always love me, and I don’t know. I’m staying here, because I’m not ready to do anything else yet. But it’s sad that we had a chance to adapt and either couldn’t do it or refused to do it.

    • I completely agree. The other night, my boyfriend and I were watching the news about the Tribune bankruptcy and he goes, “This may be a dumb question, but did they not realize the internet was out there?” I just laughed because honestly, it was like the powers that be did not realize that, until it was too late.

      I’ve also been mistreated by papers, but like a battered woman, I still love them. 😉

  2. I totally agree on the ability of print newspapers to educate the public beyond the sensational or cursory facts. Last Friday the cover story on the NYT regarding the cholera outbreak was EXCELLENT. For anyone that read the story, they would have understood how the public health crisis evolved and the true gravity of the situation.

    I fear the loss and decline of the daily newspaper marks the loss of a daily teaching tool that is truly needed by a literate, progressive society.

  3. I regularly visit my favourite news websites throughout the day, but often find when flicking through newspapers I’ll read stories I didn’t bother to click through to online.

    I wonder how much “gold” we miss online – when a boring headline or poorly written intro fails to capture our attention. Sure, this can happen for newsprint stories too, but there’s a visual element to newspapers that make them more user-friendly.

  4. Newspaper writers are still far better at short, attention-getting headlines and intros. But the news is still about two-days old compared with the Web.

    It’s the end of the line for the old medium. It makes me sick to think about all those dead trees and the creeps driving around in junkers at 5 a.m. throwing papers on every 20th driveway.

    • @Mick: I think you’re missing my point. Yes, newspapers are slower–they’ll always get scooped by the internet. But, what people are losing is the thing newspapers can give that the internet just cannot. For one, a higher accuracy rate (since they have copy editors and fact checkers). Second, there are plenty of “non-breaking” stories that newspapers tell, stories of people, stories with humanity and purpose, that the internet will never be able to tell in the same way. Because the attention span of a person reading online opposed to one reading a newspaper, magazine or other print publication is far shorter. They’re not as likely to take the time to read that Pulitzer-worthy story or that investigative piece that ends up changing laws (because yes, sometimes journalism reaches much farther than informing and entertaining). Finally, online readers don’t get the same visual effect–the beautiful layouts, the amazing pictures–that print readers do.

      I feel you on the waste of trees, but with recycling, that’s far less of an issue now. And as for those “creeps” delivering papers–just because their job is beneath you, or they drive a “junker” does not mean they are bad people. Generalizations make us all dumber.

  5. “Generalizations make us all dumber” is my new favorite line.

    I’m so sad at the demise of newspapers….I remember trying to read the New York Times when I was young and learning how to read and being so proud when I could finally understand an entire article without getting out the dictionary. I hate that the move to online news has decreased the level of prose and diction that print newspapers always seem to have.

  6. Let’s cut the crap Dorothy,
    In the real world, companies have to make a profit or they go under. If the media is government supported (like PBS) it is no longer a free press.

    I was just joking about the newspaper carriers. But I think newspapers made a big mistake firing the kids on bikes and going with adults driving old Fords.

    New York Times: Here’s How Much Cash We Need To Survive (Silicon Alley Insider): “With the patient help of the folks at the NYT, we’ve put together a schedule of how much cash the New York Times Co. needs to come up with and when. Barring asset sales or further deterioration of the business, here’s the bottom line for the next three years:

    2009: $214 million of cash needed
    2010: $546 million of cash needed
    2011: $500 million of cash needed
    “If current revenue and expense trends continue, the business itself will soon stop generating cash and start consuming it. Unless the company significantly cuts costs or sells assets, therefore, NYT Co. will likely need more cash than we have outlined here. In a Dec. 9 press release, the company said it was looking at various options for raising this cash, including revolving loan agreements and equity or debt offerings. Details in this online spreadsheet.”

  7. @Mick: I apologize for not getting your joke.
    And I totally agree, companies must make a profit, or they will go under (well, except banks and possibly car companies, since the government seems to think it’s OK to save them). And I know that most newspapers have dug themselves into this hole with their refusal to move into the digital age. I don’t think they’re without blame.

    However, I hate that these bad business decisions will destroy something that I think is a valuable contribution to our society. I guess the point of my post is to urge people to buy newspapers, to read newspapers and not let them disappear. Can readers save them on their own? Probably not. But declining circulation/readership certainly doesn’t help the situation.

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