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No News is Bad News

March 9, 2009 | 15 Comments

Mr. Noir:
Is the daily newspaper on its way out of our lives? The Rocky Mountain News just closed (don't worry, you're column is being picked up by the Denver Post).

People keep telling me to not be upset, that it's just a matter of getting used to these same papers in cyberspace. You can't litter your office with cyberspace; you need stale newspapers to create the right atmosphere.

In 1968, the Editor of the Rocky showed up roaring drunk at our Statewide High School Press Day and still managed to write brilliantly — at that moment, I decided I wanted to be a newspaper man.

Best Regards,
Kenny of Steamboat

--

The New York Times landed on my doorstep at about 7 this morning and in it, on the first page of the business section, was a good column by David Carr on this very subject, so you could go down to your bookstore or coffeeshop and buy a copy of the Times and see what he thinks. I read the paper while standing at the counter drinking coffee and then sitting next to my daughter eating her breakfast and now and then I'd pick up the paper, fold it in half and walk over to the window and look at it there.

Time for the Times to start charging for its online edition, I think. But as Mr. Carr points out, newspaper moguls are a timid lot, not given to change. We have two dailies left in the Twin Cities, one of which surely will fold. This actually might improve local journalism which — don't shoot me for saying this — seems to have improved in the past few years as staffs have shrunk. I look at the papers more often now and find more that I want to read. In the old flush days, the paper seemed to go more for high-minded term papers about positive things happening in our community, but what I want to read is a clear account of what the police say happened when that man allegedly assaulted the woman walking down the avenue four blocks from my house. It doesn't take a team of eight journalists to come up with that. I also want the paper to send reporters to the meetings of legislative committees and the city council. I don't read political blogs and broadsides and the withering crossfire of partisans. Not interesting. Government is interesting. The difficult choices facing President Obama these days, some of which seem to point away from the positions he took as a candidate: all interesting. But it takes dedicated talented journalists to make it so, and if you put out a newspaper that they write, people will buy it.


15 Comments


Sadly, the daily newspaper seems to be going the way of the Dodo Bird, disappearing across the land at an alarmingly rapid rate. Generations x, y & z have a disconnect from the fond memories we boomers have papers sold by hawkers on street corners, and neighborhood youth delivering and collecting subscription fees on a personal, come to the door basis. We are in an information overload world, and newsprint is much out of favor compared to the sexy internet information highway. There is something about holding the news in your hand, sipping a hot cup of coffee, moving about the house and resuming a storyline at your own pace. The Rocky Mountain News and all the other Dodos will be missed indeed!


A newspaper can be read during a power failure; a newspaper can be read on a park bench, a backyard deck, on the beach, all on a sunny day; a newspaper can be used for fish wrap, for drying wet running shoes or hiking books; a newspaper can be used to housetrain a puppy or to line a hamster cage; the list goes on.
E-source news has limited use; then you have to buy special paper/fabric to do any of the secondary-use tasks yesterday's Trib/Times/Post/Herald/Press/Gazette could perform.
Papier-mache`, any one?
The best most clever name for a paper, The Toledo Blade


I have given up reading "dead tree editions" of the news. Now the old articles dwell in my laptop until I can read them and can easily be shared with family and friends by email.
The NY Times online is fantastic. Don't knock it if you haven't tried it. It is updated every few minutes and has many enhancements only possible online. They did try charging for a subscription, which I gladly paid. They stopped doing so because free access draws more readers, and they apparently make more with online ads that way.


As a member of the just-before-Gen-x generation (gen W?) who is also a faithful reader of several newspapers, I've had the opposite experience to Mr. Keillor with our local daily: as staff has been cut, the quality as plummeted dramatically. The last redraft of our daily, implemented only a few weeks ago, has led to more and more "digest" style pieces of local news, when it is covered as all. Mr. Keillor says, " I also want the paper to send reporters to the meetings of legislative committees and the city council." I do, too. We're getting less and less of that, to the extent that some local news isn't covered at all.


I rarely read the newspapers anymore - too liberal. The press has become so very biased that they are loosing the public trust. Print media can claim the economy is the reason for their demise, but I'm inclined to believe the editors have gone too far to the left with their editorial positions. I'm encouraged that you can admit that the change you see in our president wasn't all that you had hoped for.


One of our papers closed Tuesday. I'm reading the other one now, but its not likely to last. Squinting at some screen is not as satisfying as rustling the pages and folding it into a rectangle for reading. Hard to do the puzzle with your coffee and no coupons to cut out. Now you won't be able to light a fire or make a kite or a paper hat or have anything to wrap the dishes in when you're moving or the fish in at the market. People will read even less than they do now and might start thinking texting is somehow writing. Magazines are next.


I used to work in the newspaper business. Wrote sports. Edited news copy. Came up with clever headlines. I sometimes miss it, but as my 92-year-old neighbor readily tells me, "Time marches on."

I have an 18-year-old son headed to college in August, and he's thinking about studying journalism. "Make sure it's electronic journalism," I told him, not wanting to have to support him for another 18 years.

Now I work as a counselor, and I learned about grief. We are grieving the newspaper, and one of the initial stages of grieving, I've been told, is denial. In the final days of my newspaper career -- about 12 years ago -- I told a newspaper editor that I didn't think the newspaper would ever die, because we still needed to be able to read something while sitting on the can. I had not foreseen the versatility of the laptop.

Rest in peace, old newspapers. I loved you.


Like the comment above, I too paid, for a while for a premium NYTimes subscription. Suddenly they announced it was over and sent me a refund. I will gladly pay to read the NYTimes online, just send me a bill and keep up the good journalism. I have no answer to how we know what our local school committee is up to or who shot who in the local bar. I guess I should know that but at my age, I don't care. Others do though, and we need local investigative journalism too.


I miss the staffed-up, good old days before spell check, when some human editor would catch the difference between " bowl " and " bowel ".


You're spot on about local journalism. I began writing for my community weekly -- the Santa Clara Weekly, one of the few independently owned newspapers left (owner: Miles Barber, a man who has reached into his own pocket on occasion to keep it that way) -- after the tech bust of 2001 decimated my freelance copywriting business. I learned that first, I loved it, and second, community issues are more complicated than the clean-cut bad-guy/good-guy narratives that big dailies reduce things to; e.g. this headline last year in the San Jose Mercury: Santa Clara Votes to Develop Last Farm in City.

The facts are somewhat different: The land in question, a former University of California agricultural research station, was used for testing insecticides for about 80 years. It was highly toxic, and the City can't afford to buy it from the state -- which will only pay for the cleanup if there's a buyer -- for all the wonderful agrarian uses that development opponents have in mind.

Not everybody welcomes my detailed reporting, needless to say. One irate reader wrote us to the effect that the Weekly needed to hire "unbiased reporters" who didn't just talk about facts;)

Carolyn Schuk
Associate Editor
Santa Clara Weekly
Santa Clara, CA


"I don't read political blogs and broadsides and the withering crossfire of partisans. Not interesting."

Huh. How do you explain all of those columns that appeared in the Chicago Tribune, then? I seem to remember many partisan rants penned by you about G.W. Bush--not that I liked him much either, mind you!

The Trib is a shadow of its former self. The Saturday edition is down to two sections now, and so many of the articles cover meaningless celebrity "news."

I read the Times online for the more serious news, and wouldn't mind paying for the privilege--if only they'd get rid of all of the annoying ads while they're at it!


I recently wrote to nytimes.com:
I find myself checking the nytimes.com site at least once per day and often more frequently. A few days ago I heard that the NY Times employees were going to have their pay cut. While I do not want a newspaper delivered to my home (it seems a waste when the information is available without the cost and environmental degradation involved in printing and distributing a paper edition), I do feel that I should pay for the work you do, the same way I pay for NPR and PBS content. So, after a bit of searching, I found that I could purchase the downloadable version on a month-to-month basis. Perfect! You might consider making that option a bit more obvious from your front page. I'll bet there are many others who feel the way I do.


There is something intrinsically comforting about holding a real life newspaper in your hands. It's the smell, feel, the ink stains left on your finger from thumbing through it.

I'm only 22, but I can still remember when a newspaper used to mean something. I remember being a young girl and watching my father read "The Herald Press", our small-town newspaper, every morning while we ate breakfast together(another dying tradition). I remember when it meant something to get your name in the paper. Cutting out articles to post on the refrigerator door just isn't the same when those articles are printed off of a website.

I recently went back to my hometown of Huntington, IN and found a copy of the local paper I once loved. It saddened me to see the number of articles that were just plucked from the AP wire. It's just another small paper on it's way to extinction now.

I'm very upset by the death of the newspaper. It just won't be the same when I find myself sitting down to my morning coffee and opening my laptop instead of a newspaper.


I'm a kid from Chicago, where the newspaper business has been hit badly. Both of our biggest papers have filed for bankruptcy and both could now probably be lifted on one finger, if they'd balance there. My mother is a reporter, so I suppose I feel the squeeze a bit harder than most, but it isn't just because she's had to take on the work of about 10 people and will probably lose her job. Even the most accurate blogs (and I have to say, I certainly have a problem with getting my news from sites that may not require the best of writing, a well rounded view of all the news, or professional editing - news writing is an art like anything else, you know) are still online, and putting everything on a computer doesn't replace the meaning we attach to REAL LIFE situations. I will always remember seeing the front of the sun times on November 5th, which was simply one large black and white photograph and the words, "Mr.President". Can you replace the silence of a sunrise interrupted only by the sound of a page being turned? Can a reporter replace the thrill of their first front-page article? And what of the 20 minutes in the morning where my mom, my sister and myself sit drinking our tea and coffee and reading the paper together, possibly the only peace will find all day? The words may be the same, but reading an article online is not. There are no old familiar sights, no deep connections online, and most of all, one who allows themselves to be sucked into a screen is pulling away from their world.

Thank s to Prairie home companion, keeper of the old-fogie flame for young fogies like me. Don't let us forget.


My elderly auntie loves the Strib and reads it all day long, in fits and starts. She does the crossword. Will she be punished for not being ONLINE? I can't believe we all think everyone has a laptop, everyone is wired, everyone is as ADD about getting their news as we all are. Will there be no choices?
A newspaper is a tactile thing. You spread it out on your table and decide which piece you want to read and then you go munch and sip your breakfast and it's really the most enjoyable, relaxing thing I have in my day.
I work on a computer all day and I hate the way it pulls me away from the world when I get home. I just quit Facebook and Twitter because, you know what? Who cares. Am I the only person whose eyes get burny and watery after an hour of reading after 6 pm? Am I the only person whose thumb hurts all the time from that damn SCROLLING? I don't want to take my laptop to Dunn Bros! I want to carry a paper there.
I fear the whole of the news will be poorly written; we won't have access to the details we need to know about our communities; we'll be reduced to the quick 10 second flash of info, like the ten o'clock news, where you're going, "Whaaa? That's ALL you're gonna tell me about that important thing?" Good investigative reporting takes money and time, folks. I don't want to read a blog about you and your stupid dog. I want to know why things happen, who did that thing, are they going to be held accountable. If all newspapers, esp the small community weeklies, go down, who will be there to stop the bad guys? Oh, right. The bloggers. The Twitters. I'm sorry, dear auntie, but I think it's coming.

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