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What Will We Do Without Newspapers?

March 24, 2009

When the topic concerning the plight of newspapers comes up it is interesting how often I hear the same theme over and over.  It really is a simple thing, and yet so meaningful.

Most recently an aunt expressed it at our dinner table when she spoke of how enjoyable it was to get the morning paper, and spread it out  in front of her for a leisurely read.   There is no way to get that same ‘feel’ by reading the news on the computer.  Meanwhile, David Blaska wrote recently about this theme.

Call me a dinosaur. If the world comes down to one last print periodical, I will find it, order up a coffee and a blueberry scone, and enjoy a Saturday morning with my quality newsprint.

I want that tactile feel of folding the publication to the article I am reading. Yellow highlighting piquant passages. Outstanding articles get the Blaska seal of approval, a circle enclosing a checkmark. A sign that my beloved Lisa may enjoy the same article.

Everywhere I turn there are people lamenting the end of what I thought would always exist.  The daily newspapers delivered to our homes.  There is a joy of getting my fingers darkened by the ink, as I spend quality time with the news penned by the reporters and columnists that I have bonded with over the years.  The process of reading a newspaper for me is far more than just getting the news, it is almost a spiritual exercise where there is calm and reflection about the stories, built around the expectation of what will appear once the page is turned.  I kid you not, I enjoy that little thrill about what the next page holds in the paper.  I always am richer as a result of the daily paper.

Sadly, I know my time with the daily reads is coming to an end.

As a nation, we will lose much more than just that special time of the day when we curl up with it.  We are in fact going to suffer tremendously for the loss of accountability that the papers provide to insure our government has journalistic oversight, a loss of a daily record of events that makes for historical documentation, and a sense of commonality that allows us to have some overall reference point as a nation.

I started to become politically aware during the final months of Richard Nixon’s time in office.  It is safe to say that without the intrepid reporting of Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward while working at the famed Washington Post, the sins of Watergate along with the other tales of deception might never have been uncovered.  While some might have applauded that lack of illumination concerning our leaders, most will agree with me that the newspaper played not only a dramatic role but an essential one, in making sure our leaders were held accountable for their actions.

But where are the reporters to be found in order to hold our state and national leaders accountable when the newspapers fold up and shut down?  I can only assume that the Speaker of the Wisconsin State Assembly would snicker if a blogger showed up to investigate a legislative scandal.  On the other hand with pen and notepad in hand Dee Hall from the Wisconsin State Journal sends a message when she enters a room with a question and a barrel of ink behind her.  That may sound cute to some, but there is a real level of concern about the need to monitor government, and policies that can not be done on the cheap, or by amateurs.  After all, while many like to grouse about the press, let us not forget they are professionals, and do much to keep us free and safe.

When I mentioned recently to an aunt that without newspapers her genealogy research would be much more difficult, it only took a second for her face to register the realization of what the end of newspapers means for all sorts of historical checking.  If you want to know what the first-hand feel of the Civil War was like go back in the archives of the New York Times and feel the first impressions.  They are much different than later versions of the events as they were written at the moment of anguish and uncertainty.  There is a truth to the tone of the writing that is priceless.  God help us if we ever lose that first writing of history.  After all, that is what a newspaper, when all is said and done, is all about.

When I was a boy ‘Uncle’ Walter Cronkite was the anchor that most Americans watched as he informed us about the news of the day.  No matter where we lived, or what we thought, we had a point of reference as a nation when discussing the news.  To some extent, the front pages of the New York Times, Washington Post, or Los Angeles Times can make the same type of claim.  For it is these papers that often set the topic for discussion on radio, or by the pundits on the evening cable news shows.  I think it important that as a nation we have some points of commonality in viewing the issues of the day.  For much of our history, the role of newspapers has played a key role in that mission.

There are many reasons to feel sad and nostalgic over losing newspapers in our communities and states.  I am a huge reader, so I will find other things, even though it will pain me greatly when the last edition of my morning paper comes (someday down the road).    I hope I can cope.  But I wonder if the country can be as strong and educated without the work that is done by newspaper reporters, and the printing presses that roll out the daily first read of history?

P.S.  When it was time to convert frequent flier miles this year to something tangible we made the decision to get a second newspaper with the points we had gained.  We had other options, but I suggested we get the Wall Street Journal to A) have another well-written point of view in the house to balance the New York Times, and also B) as I wanted to help a paper out and make a small statement about the role that these daily bagged items mean when they land on our stoop each morning.  I must say I am extremely impressed with the polished writing and well-argued points on the WSJ Op-Ed pages.   It is this type of writing and arguing that makes papers stimulating and essential to a vibrant society.

  1. Thomas J Canton permalink
    March 26, 2009 8:36 AM

    Newspapers can blame the internet and rapidly decreasing revenues because of the economy. Those are entirely valid reasons. There is one thing none of these papers in trouble take into account, America is tired of being told how much it totally sucks to be here. Maybe if they took some of the extreme left wing hate bile out of their editorials and articles, the Rocky Mountain News and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer would not be reduced to online editions and wiping out 90% of their staff…

  2. March 25, 2009 10:03 PM

    I have to add that I’m a bit baffled by the comments left at the link that Thomas J Canton posted.

    They’re talking about how terrible it would be to have state-run newspapers, that it would be like Pravda, and such.

    Well, yes, I agree that privately owned newspapers would be better, and guess what? They would still be allowed to exist, unlike in the USSR.

    But publicly funded newspapers would be better than no newspapers at all.

  3. March 25, 2009 9:56 PM

    Here’s another idea.

    It’s not that dissimilar from the other link, but focuses more on endowments in addition to newspapers becoming non-profits.

    I imagine going forward that some private sector newspapers will survive, some will go the nonprofit route and perhaps we will even see a public NewsPaper with a print equivalent of Jim Lehrer.

  4. Thomas J Canton permalink
    March 25, 2009 11:22 AM

    Here might be a cure for what ails you and your Aunt.

    Reading the Wall Street Journal??!!! You do know that is owned by Rupert Murdoch of Fox don’t you?? Aren’t you afraid your friends at the DailyKos might shun you??

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