Tuesday, March 10, 2009

An Ode & Eulogy to the Daily Newspaper

The end has been on the horizon for some years now, creeping in like the fog on the San Francisco Bay or like the cowboy villain on his horse in some early Clint Eastwood movie. It's the death of the printed newspaper and it saddens me. Who will be around to write the obituary and, more important, where are we going to be able to read it?

For many years after moving to California from Massachusetts, my mother would mail to me a copy of our local paper, The Old Colony Memorial (the oldest paper in the USA), to keep me up to speed on the slow lane of Plymouth, MA. I thoroughly enjoyed paging through it, reading the Main Street news and finding out who was married, birthed, arrested and arraigned. Who doesn't remember the absolute joy of having your picture in the paper, even if you were just in the background of some sporting event?

Then, sometime around 1996, I discovered that you could read the news online, in particular the Boston Globe. The Globe is famous for having the best collection of sports writers in the country and I have thirst for sports stories. This was ecstasy! Not so slowly, I jumped on the technology bandwagon and decided that those relics made of pulp were twenty-five cents of old news. Who needs to pay for dated reporting when I could get up-to-second news for free! I told my mom she didn't need to send the paper anymore when I found the OCM online. I think she was a bit saddened by that as she enjoyed the ritual. I thought I was saving her money...

Sadly, I felt this way for years, many years. Occasionally the sight of a Sunday paper, with it hundreds of pages of paper, would give me a warm fuzzy of old days of reading the funnies after going to church. Even the insipidness of the Parade Magazine had some kitsch value. But it was not enough to make me a regular buyer of the newspaper.

Even the progressives with their green agenda were working against the printed news industry. How many trees were being lost to the printing industry? Were they being replaced? Wasn't reading news on a computer monitor, a renewable resource, making us a much better tenant of the planet? Of course, electronic waste was never really mentioned during these arguments and much less sexier of a report verses the destruction of rainforests and such. 

With all these things going against newspapers, it seemed like it was either re-invent the industry or fade away. I was okay with this...

Then something happened to me. One night I got a knock on our door and was greeted by two teenage boys looking to raise money for college by selling newspaper subscriptions. They seemed sincere enough, I wanted to support a good cause, and the price was right for a subscription to both the San Francisco Chronicle and the Oakland Tribune, so I bit and  wrote a check. Soon I was getting morning and weekend papers.

And you know what? I've fallen for newspapers again. The chosen editing and selection of stories was so efficient compared to the lack of self-editing that comes with a seductive endless strain of hyperlinks. You can start out reading about Israeli military aggression  and end up looking up the movie career of Eric Bana and the evolution of the Incredible Hulk in seconds time. This is not a good thing. The paper offered notes and hints to places to visit in the Bay Area that I would have missed on my way to perusing my Facebook friends' status updates.

I was happy.

Then I saw this. And then this.

Like a temporary remission of a cancer patient, I found hope but was hit with what felt like a punch in the gut. Could both the Boston Globe and the SF Chronicle be gone by the end of the year? My god, what will happen to the Family Circus?

I can only recommend you run out and buy a paper and spend some time reading it. You might find yourself enjoying it. Do it, while you still can...

1 comment:

  1. I had to put my money where my mouth was the other night, when the Chronicle upped its subscription rates by $20. But as a newspaper reporter who still believes in the medium, I had to do it.

    I think what most people don't realize is that newspapers aren't going to "go to the Web" -- at least not until advertisers do (and they haven't). They're just going to go, period. And since television, radio and all of those wonderful Internet blogs draw their information, by and large, from newspaper reporting, their absence will have a much greater impact than many people expect.