There has been a lot of discussion about the death of newspapers recently.
The younger demographic (younger than I am is practically everyone) gets their news from the internet and television. But I also have contemporary and older friends who have CNN on constantly - or CNBC, MSNBC. They don’t read newspapers.
[I should probably explain that I have a minor in journalism - a very old minor - and worked on a masters in journalism at Ohio University. I completed all the course work, but never wrote my thesis, so I got my first masters degree in ‘communications’ locally. After I retired I earned an MFA in Creative Writing form Goddard College in Plainfield, VT.]
In Chicago both the Sun-Times and the Tribune appear to teeter on the cusp of extinction. That’s unfortunate. Newspapers offer information that the internet or CNN cannot. At least they used to offer deep information. Lately, however, they seem to lay off ten percent of their reporters on a regular basis.
And I think that in some ways they have brought this on themselves.
Until two years ago we subscribed to three newspapers: the Star, which came twice a week and had good local news; the Chicago Sun-Times; and the Chicago Tribune.
The Star changed its format in an apparent effort to make more money. It treated us South Suburbanites like poor stepchildren, unworthy of local news and hired a reporter to write occasional features about the suburb I live in and the ones surrounding it. The focus of the Star’s news became the affluent southwestern and western suburbs. Evidently there was more advertising revenue there. On the other hand, as news dried up and locals stopped subscribing, which most people I know did, advertising here also dried up. I think this is called a self-fulfilling prophecy.
If I absolutely need local news, I can get the complete Star on line. For free. This seems to me to be stupid and bad economics. If I can get local news I want gratis, why should I subscribe?
We stopped subscribing to the Sun Times not for editorial reasons, but because our delivery was so spotty. I called time after time, and sometimes they would deliver the missed paper and sometimes not. I finally suggested that if we didn’t get a paper one more morning, we’d cancel our subscription. We didn’t, and then we did. There was not a lot in the Sun Times that we can’t get in the Tribune. The three notables are David Steinberg, a columnist whom I like, the patternless crossword puzzle, and the comics. Otherwise the same information is in the Tribune and in a (very slightly) less flamboyant way.
The Tribune is a newspaper we still subscribe to. In the last few months it has become a kind of sensational general overview of the news instead of an in-depth, serious newspaper. It frequently shoots itself in the foot. For example, in the election last month, it gave no local results. Rather, a note that local results were available on the Tribune website steered us once more to the internet and away from the newspaper.
As I write this, I am asking myself why I continue to pay for a newspaper. The best answer is probably habit. We do what we learned as children. When I was young I always waited for the evening paper, spread it on the floor and read the funnies.
I still read the funny pages first thing when I open the newspaper. And the Tribune has almost two pages worth. I also read the front section and the editorials, letters to the editor and opinion pieces.
And I seldom watch television news. I watched too many burning children during the Viet Nam War era. After my son died in a horrific accident, I could no longer watch news filled with body bags. Television news is usually too immediate, too emotional, too graphic.
And too repetitious.
I received a call the morning of nine-eleven directing me to turn on the television. I watched the Twin Towers fall a couple of times and was totally aghast. I turned the television off then and watched only sporadically because there was little new information. I read that a lot of Americans had post-traumatic stress disorder from watching the news that day.
I escaped that. But our “leaders” seemed to use our national PTSD and the Twin Tower Card every time they wanted something from Congress and Americans in general. And Dick Cheney seems to continue to use it to criticize Barack Obama’s first 100 days.
Be that as it may, I will continue to buy newspapers as long as I can. That may not be much longer if they all go under. I’ll probably get a little news from the internet and television, mostly local obituaries I suspect.
I suspect they may survive by reversing their internet usage. Instead of being general on paper, they could be general on the internet, and give the details in the paper.
As always, comment below.