The good old-fashioned American newspaper is dropping like the proverbial fly that we used to swat with it. Recently, the Rocky Mountain News printed its final edition. In April, the print edition of the Christian Science Monitor will no longer be published daily, the Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press have announced they will end daily home delivery in favor of their Web sites, and other newspapers are sure to follow. It’s a shame. Maybe those of the digital generation will say I’m crazy and that they can get everything from their computer that people used to get out of having a real newspaper. Oh, really? Let’s see them try to housebreak a puppy by spreading their laptops all over the kitchen floor.
Over the last several years, online outlets have very successfully competed for the “eyeballs” (as they call them in digitalk) of the American news reader. Look at the Los Angeles Times. They’ve tried new fonts, they’ve combined sections, and they’ve canceled sections. They put things on page one that they wouldn’t have put on page 61 a few years ago. They are desperate and don’t know what to do.
At first, these online “newspapers” imitated real newspapers. Those in charge also saw that sensationalism worked well online, so they imitated the sensationalized tabloid as well.
Unfortunately, instead of real newspapers responding by emphasizing things that they could do that online outlets couldn’t do — like hiring more reporters and doing in-depth stories — the real newspapers started imitating online news. Now it’s hard to tell their content apart from that of their former imitators.
Here’s what I mean: Which of the following quoted items do you think were in a prominent American newspaper and which do you think were online or in the National Enquirer? 1)“Washington Porkers.” 2)“Swiss gigolo jailed in BMW heiress blackmail.” 3)“Mad Cow Drug Ineffective.” 4)“Daylight savings time can affect your health.” 5)“Is it time to take Ashton Kutcher seriously?”
Sadly, all five were either in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, or the Los Angeles Times.
Both online news outlets and real newspapers serve definite needs. I’d like to see them exist side by side, just as television news and newspapers have for so many years. This will only happen if we demand it, and if we click a little less onto the Daily Online Newsburst or whatever the latest popular digital news outlet is called. For fast-breaking stories, sports scores, and all kinds of photos, online is great. But if I want to try to understand which religious group is in a faraway war or why the latest economic theory is just as bogus as all the others, I want a newspaper that I can hold in my hands.
So maybe that’s it. Holding “the news” in your hands is a different experience from seeing it on the screen. Perhaps I’m just of a generation for whom words printed on paper mean a great deal. Don’t get me wrong. I’m thrilled that people read my work online. But there’s a little extra joy, knowing that some people are also reading it in real newspapers. Even if you get the same information online, it’s different from having the feel, the smell, and everything else that goes with a real newspaper. Even if my hands get dirty from it sometimes, I don’t want to give that up.
I know people can still read a “newspaper” on their computers at the breakfast table, on a commuter train, or maybe even in that room of the house that many people have traditionally read their newspapers in. But it’s not the same.
I worry about kids, the future generation. They may never read an actual newspaper. They might never cut out articles to bring to school or pictures to put up in their rooms. As adults, they may never have the joy of enveloping themselves in a Sunday paper, spread all over their bed. And there’s something else. If newspapers disappear, how are kids going to make anything out of papier-mâché?
Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from “Sesame Street” to “Family Ties” to “Home Improvement” to “Frasier.” He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out his Web site at lloydgarver.com and his podcasts on iTunes.