The Death of the Daily Newspaper?

In a word, yes.  I read the Boston Globe on a daily basis.  I truly enjoy reading it and look forward to those minutes.  For as long as I can remember I have read the daily newspaper.  Back when I was just a kid, my father bought the Sunday Boston Herald, then a premier daily newspaper in the city.  We also received the other six days of the week, the local newspaper, The Lawrence Eagle Tribune.  For two years, when I was 12 and 13, I delivered that paper.  That paper did not in those days have a Sunday edition, as it does now, but there was another local paper that filled that need, The Lawrence Sunday Sun.  The Sun was heavily invested in the greater Lawrence community.  It allowed for the area high schools to have one of its teen journalists provide a column.  Those columns were merely a popularity who’s who of the local high schools, but it did get us teens reading the paper, if only for that vanity.  Importantly, it put a newspaper in front of us on a regular basis.  It made us want to have that newspaper regularly.

My last two years of high school were spent in Bordentown New Jersey.  The school there encouraged us to read one of the New York dailies, the Times or the Herald Tribune.  I chose the Herald Tribune and enjoyed it very much.  But somewhere in the earl 1970s it fell victim to economic forces and it went out of business.  This, as it turned out, was just the opening round of many such events, some of which included one newspaper buying out its competition.  But I digress a little early.

In the 1960s I can remember the Boston papers on Mondays through Friday having at least two editions a day.  The Boston Globe had a morning and an evening edition.  The Boston Record American, had a morning edition, a racing edition, a baseball edition, among others.  Again, the 1970s saw the end to most such extra editions.  Newspaper subscriptions and readership was declining.

The 1980s saw the beginning of increasing newspaper prices.  Did the increase in price lead to the decline in readership?  I rather doubt it.  In the 1980s television exploded with the beginnings of cable television, and with that, the ability of the individual to get his news fix at almost any hour of the day.  People began to opt to watch the news rather than read the news.  There is something to be said for video news, it is usually much more timely than anything you can read in a newspaper. But the downside of video news, in my opinion, is you also frequently get far fewer details about any single event.  To this day, the newspaper still does a superior job, as a rule, to video journalism.

Broadcast journalism, in my opinion, emphasises what used to be called “yellow journalism.”  Yellow journalism is the use of pictures and phrases that quickly evoke an emotional response for the reader, or in today’s parlance, the viewer.  Such news is not well researched, not scientific, and is truly only interested in capturing an audience for that moment in time.  Today’s video news tends to focus on tragic incidents ad nauseam.  I find myself talking to the television and saying, “what about the rest of the news?  Certainly something else happened today!”  But you would never know it because the news stations conveniently leave out the rest of the news.  But they know that people are drawn to these dramatic events and even though they cannot reasonably provide anything new to the story, they will play up even the smallest portion in their unending quest to keep people watching them.

The things on the news I would like to see on a daily basis, and a little long than a 10 second snippet, is a daily economic report, a daily political report of what happened in Washington DC today, a political report on the state, and follow-up news reports on those events that are likely to impact our lives.  The Michael Jackson trial, the Casey Anthony Trial, and all other such events, while interesting, do not deserve the air-time they received.  None of those event directly affect us.

Newspapers, on the other hand, cannot afford to devote the space for such drama.  But they are also victim to their own devices.  Newspapers, for whatever reason, have become increasingly poor at fact checking.  For quite a number of years I worked in an area that made the news, aviation.  My boss, a particularly bright man, could frequently be heard bemoaning the improper assertions the newspapers had made.  His attempt to correct them fell on deaf ears, even though he was an acknowledged authority.

The thing is, newspaper are going to die simply because the number of people who read anything at all is falling.  Our society has made it too easy to capture information in pictures.  People, for whatever reason, are less and less inclined to read about what is going on around them.  It has become so bad that a friend of mine, who is a retired journalist, has himself forsaken the daily newspaper.  The bottom line is, people are finding more than enough reasons, regardless of how illogical, to not read.  This is a sad commentary on our society, I believe, but a true one.

I have become a bit of a victim to this myself.  I do still read a newspaper every day of the week, but I no longer buy the paper version of books.  I have come to enjoy reading my books on my Kindle.  Even so, I miss the tactile feel of paper and even as I read my Kindle, I cannot help but miss that paper volume.

I do not think the daily newspaper will cease to exist in my life time, but I do believe it will cease to exist in this century.  As I write this, more and more newspapers are offering electronic versions you can download on your Kindle or that you can subscribe to on the Internet.  But I don’t believe that will be enough.  It is a stopgap measure forestalling the inevitable.  What I fear most is that we are quickly becoming a society of illiterates.  What else can happen to a society that forgoes reading for watching videos?


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