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March 10, 2009

The Newspaper is Dead; Long Live the Newspaper

The Newspaper is Dead; Long Live the Newspaper

By Sarah

It is time for the daily newspaper as we know it to die.

I say that not only as a former newspaper reporter, but also as someone who came into this world Walter supported by a newspaperman's salary. Growing up, the Axis of Evil went something like this - Satan/Nixon/Walter Cronkite. Not that my father would admit to that now - who doesn't admire Walter Cronkite? - but if we were caught watching the TV news there was hell to pay. My father couldn't even stand to watch Mary Tyler Moore (especially the award-winning episode when she went to jail) because she worked for TV.

Oh, how naive he seems now. Why, it's almost as if TV and newspapers are clinging to one another as the ship sinks.

Back in the day, the newspaper my father worked for - and later won a Pulitzer for - was so revered (and hated) by the community that the phone started ringing at 5 if an after-school paperboy happened to space. It was like that Woody Allen joke about two old ladies in the Catskills complaining that the food was awful. And, yes, there wasn't nearly enough of it.

The Bethlehem Globe-Times was an afternoon paper. Perfect for a town where the steel shiftBethtimes ended at 3 and dinner was on the table by 4:30 sharp. Like other small town newspapers, its cache was not investigative pieces or splashy features, but the bread and butter of life - obits, local sports scores (and photos), the police blotter, advertisements and Ann Landers.

As editor, my father not only oversaw the paper's content and wrestled with angry advertisers who balked at said content, he also wrote all the editorials, coached the pool of young reporters and, at that magic hour, went upstairs where hot lead was typed in reverse on huge metal plates to make sure every headline was right. It wasn't called "the daily miracle" for nothing.

That was before computers, of course, when newspaper stories were pounded out in triplicate and edited with black grease pencils that you unraveled with a string. We had tons of them lying around the house and Bethlehem globe times when I think of my father as a younger man, I think of him with his shirt sleeves rolled up, his lips in a frown and that grease pencil behind his ear. The cop reporter - a hard-edged woman with a soft heart - was something out of central casting. Nice long legs, she smoked brown More cigarettes and was famous for the time she came into the office to find an eager intern bustling around her desk. After polite introductions, her only line to him was, "Get the fuck out of my chair."

When the publisher wrapped his car around a tree - again - he called up my father and said, "Don't hold it." As if my father would have. It was the cops who'd protected the publisher's drinking problem, not him. That was the way Bethlehem worked.

As a little girl, my father would meet me in the newsroom on Sundays after church where I gathered up the mounds of paper that had rolled off the AP machines and played with the dumb waiter that was used to carry messages from advertising to editorial. At sixteen, after the Globe-Times had long been a morning paper, I started writing business stories and at eighteen worked the lobster shift from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. the summer of my freshman year in college writing obits and rewriting stories called in from the Northampton Town Council meeting. The editor next to me worked his way through a six pack each night.

In college, I edited the Tufts Observer, oversaw a raunchy April Fools issue and was nearly kicked out of school. Because of it, though, I got an internship at Newsday. The day after my own graduation, I was covering Rutgers' graduation for the Home News in New Jersey. Three years there, one painful relationship, and I was at the Cleveland Plain Dealer. When Charlie went to law school, I worked for a paper smaller than the Globe-Times, a dinky daily called the Valley News where I sat across from a certain future author - Sarah Stewart Taylor.

Of those newspapers for which I worked, the Globe-Times is gone and so is the Home News. The Boston Globe, for which I used to string in college, apparently loses $1 million a week. Here's a list of those papers not likely to survive.

I know a lot about newspapers. And I know their time has come to an end. The days of producing pulp toIphone transmit information is so environmentally destructive it's criminal. So, for that matter, is delivering the daily papers by car and truck. People read their iPhones on the train. And in the barber's. The Rocky Mountain News has closed and many more will follow.

But that's not to say journalism is dead. In fact, I would argue it's more alive than ever. I read "more news" now than I ever have, repeatedly checking my local newspaper's online edition not only for breaking stories, but also for reaction from the community. The New York Times online is the first thing I read in the morning and the last thing I read at night. If anything, we need more and better trained reporters able to deliver news accurately and quickly.

The question, as always, is how to pay for them. I subscribe to the NYT online and would happily subscribe to my local newspaper for the same cost as a paper edition. Does advertising work in an electronic medium? Frankly, I don't see the difference between an ad on paper and an ad on the screen.

Yes, I'll miss that heady smell of ink on newsprint, the romance of those first pages coming off hot. Somehow, the words on them seem more permanent, more real, more powerful. But they're just words. And now they're being read on something else.

That's all. Just that.



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I will miss the newspapers. Back 10 years ago when we traveled all over this country, we always bought a local paper in the morning just to get a feel for the city over breakfast. We also bought USA Today and switched sections as we ate. I was always interested to see the difference in how news was reported by the local dailies and how it was "announced" by USA Today. Now we can't even get a USA Today in our area; the closest place to buy it is 35 miles away. I miss reading a paper in the morning. I hate getting my news from the net or CNN. I can't stand those strident voices telling me the same thing over and over again first thing in the morning. I always feel as if I'm getting only half of the story with TV news.

I will very much miss the newspaper. My beloved Philadelphia Daily News is undergoing more changes, even more than the mass layoffs and forced retirements last year. I usually read it for the sports (start at the back and read forward), but their sports reporting--bread and butter for them--has really fallen off. Long-time reporters are gone. Professional games that are within driving distance are covered by wire service stories--and so are some HOME GAMES! What we lose is the personal touch of the reporter with established connections to his/her subjects, a sense of history that I as reader have (Did you know that this player eats alive a particular player on the other team, something that doesn't show in the stats? Things like that.) I HATE when I know more than the reporter, when I have a better sense of history and the moment, and I'm afraid that's where we are headed.

The local Wilmington Gannett paper is also getting cut back, although I'm not sure I object to that. I know that advertising revenues are falling, with department stores merging or closing, other larger advertisers closing or cutting back, auto sales plunging, the real estate market tanking, jobs going online, and Craigslist all but taking over other classifieds.

Still, I will miss the papers. I will miss sitting in the lunchroom, putting humor into and commenting on the news of the day, reading it in places I don't have a computer, like the car or a restaurant.

I have to confess that I've never been a huge fan of newspapers - the newsprint itself somehow irritates my skin. We do subscribe to the local paper - just to support it, but the only thing I really look at is the sports section.

I went cold turkey on TV news during the Jon Benet Ramsey year(s). Our daughter is about that age, and I couldn't stand the constant coverage. I never really went back. We do watch Jim Lehrer and if there is something big going on, CNN and MSNBC. But no nightly newscasts for me.

I'm sorry for all the people who work for local newspapers and TV, but I get my news online.

Great blog Sarah - especially from your point of view.

I actually read more newspapers now than I did when we used to "take" the daily paper (as we say 'round heah). I just do it at the computer while I drink my coffee and periodically yell at The Boy to get it in gear, he's late for school.

I read the NYT, the WaPo, the Raleigh N & O, and occasionally a foreign paper or two just for the hell of it.

The problem, as I understand it, is that they're struggling to make money online. Ads aren't making the nut, especially since more and more people are putting adblocking software in their browsers. And I hear that the New York times experiment in putting some content behind a "pay wall" failed badly. People weren't willing to pay for what they'd gotten free yesterday.

Did you dress like Rosalind Russell, Sarah? because that movie created such a romance with papers for me.

C'mon, check it out:

OMG - Nancy, that's one of my favorite movies ever.

Maybe if the various news agencies stop pouring megabucks into the current system of printing and delivering they could still make money online. It's making me nervous, though, to think that true journalism will permanently be replaced with the likes of what Fox "News" considers truth. Oy, oy, oy.

The Cincinnati Enquirer is our nearest big paper. The daily bulk has reduced considerably over the last few years. We don't have a subscription, but the paper mysteriously appears at the end of our drive about three times a week, with no explanation, and no bill, either. I have tried to stop delivery, but with no actual account they have no way to stop it. Weird, huh?

Sarah, did you see the movie Leatherheads? Renee Zellweger tried mightily to channel Ros Russell. Personally, I enjoyed seeing George Clooney covered in mud. That was fun.

Sarah--I recently blogged about the loss of print media--everything is moving towards e-books. I'm all for e-books, but I will greatly miss the feel and smell of the print media--my computer screen just doesn't feel or smell the same. I'd just heard about the Rocky Mountain news, so many newspapaers are gone or cutting back. I live in a rural community, so our paper is only about ten pages long, and it more interest to read online truthfully. At least I can click over to other sites and get the bigger picture. I was an avid CNN watcher, but any more all they do is shout the same news at you over and over again. Sad, but true, print media is slowly slippy away.

Hey...speaking of print media, there's a story in our local paper today about Charlie entering the race for Vermont Secretary of State....Uh, oh. You don't think that 100 day thing will come back to haunt him, do you?


I don't mind reading online; I'm like Kathy, I've given up watching the news these days. Evidently, I'm not a pleasant person after I watch the news...especially when a story about GM is on. :)

What I do miss is the good writing. What passes for writing online, isn't always. Even on time.com I had to read a story 3 times to understand what it was saying. It was out of order, bad grammar, and just unclear what point they were trying to make.

I started on newspapers in the days of hot lead, Sarah, and there was something romantic about the smell of printer's ink.
But newspapers died because their editors cared more about writing memos than reporting, because reporters spent too much time talking to each other, instead of talking to readers. The lists of things that could not be said because they might offend advertisers, or the publisher's frieds, grew. And so the papers died.

Elaine, you are so right. Thanks for pointing out what I missed.

It can't ALL be blamed on technology.

AMEN, Elaine!

It'll be interesting to see what's left at the end of this recession (if we ever get to the end) not only of the newspaper industry but of the publishing industry. I wish it were as simple as everything just migrating to electronic format, but what Dusty said is very true. Electronic format just doesn't pay. It's hard to imagine books surviving in their current numbers in Kindle format either. How many people love to read enough to invest in one of those things and carry it around? I've read predictions that we're headed the way of Japan -- short chapters downloaded to cell phones. The iPhone is now offering a Kindle-type app so maybe that'll be the salvation of books.

I realized during the political conventions that the "death of the newspaper" was what the news industry needs. I am in St. Louis, and as Elaine could tell you in 300 pages, the St. Louis paper sucks. It has for years. It is down now to a shell of its former lack luster self.

But newspapers and TV news (I have seen 2 full half hour news broadcasts in the last 7 years. They have gotten much worse than the paper.) are carving out the quality and leaving the scraps as their product. During the political conventions last summer, more than 1500 US reporters attended each convention. Why? St. Louis needed to send more than a dozen people to get five sentences from Clair McCaskill? The same thing then happened during the CES. Why did a local reporter need to spend a week in Vegas? And if we are talking about the STL P-D reporter, he isn't very tech savy to begin with. But somehow I'll bet he found out the Adult Entertainment Convention is in Vegas the same week as the CES.

Yes, I get most of my news on a screen or a radio. And if the Post would like me to keep subscribing, try putting out something that would get better than a C in a high school journalism class.

Of course St. Louis may have a solution to the energy crisis. Just have to figure a way to hook a generator to the spinning graves of Joseph Pulitzer and Gussie Busch.

AMEN, Alan!

I agree with sentiments here about shoddy reporting, not only in print but TV news as well, I don't know how many times they have to say, Uh, Sorry, What I Meant Was...someone speaking in their ear got it wrong and in turn, did they. I know our paper is small, but I noticed a growing lack of writing skills, I wonder if the interns from the high school are helping complete the stories. It's a definite possibility,if you have read a high school newspaper lately you have to wonder where are the editors.

Alan, the local reporters were at CES so that they could go across the street to the "other convention," the one that spun off from CES.

For an excellent inside look at what's wrong with newspapers, check out the final season of The Wire, part of which is set in the offices of the Baltimore Sun, where David Simon worked.

The Wire is very gritty (which is not usually my preference) but the writing/acting/setting is so brilliant, it's worth it.

Best of luck to Charlie, Sarah. As for that 100-day thing? It can only help him, letting the public know that he has a hot relationship with his own wife. How refreshing for a politician!

Very cool about Charlie running for Sec of State (When I first typed this, I typed "sate" instead of STATE. Must have been thinking about those 100 days)

What I miss in the news is THE NEWS. They seem to have forgotten what is NEWS and what is gossip. And the political leanings of the news...Fox is Republican. Matthews and Oberman are so over the top Democrat. Nothing is reported without a political slant.

I'll miss the newspaper. I love the smell, reading the police log (someone reported a break-in and stolen spaghetti. Someone else reported a stolen piece of wood!)

I hope newspapers will be able to echo Mark Twain in saying, "The news of my death has been greatly exaggerated." I would miss them, although some mornings I don't feel like trying to find where it's been thrown.

I am hoping newspapers last for another 10 years or so . . . I work in the head office of a labour union representing newspaper workers throughout BC. I need 10 years or so in my pension plan and then I can retire early . . .
We get 3 different newspapers in the office and there are a number of free weekly and daily newspapers in Vancouver. I admit, I read them mostly for the comics. I have found that coverage of news has gotten shallow and cheesy over the years. Too much effort is put into trying to pull at the heartstrings without any real news.
Or if there is an ongoing story it is wrung dry over weeks and weeks of coverage until it has no relation to the initial story.
And when there is in depth news coverage the writing gets dry and pedantic, making the articles a tough slog.
I stopped watching tv news a long time ago, a lot of helmet haired people trying to be celebrities by reading a teleprompter.

T.V. News has become entertainment and not news. Breaking news; you heard it here on (pick a station number. 2,4,7) first; and the fabulous "storm tracker" teams. But my newspaper, oh, I loved my local newspaper. Births, deaths, weddings, I even remember when they printed the divorces! Local news, what's really going on in my community, written by people who were FROM here and knew everyone. Actual ads for jobs! Now, the paper is two very, very thin sections except on Sunday. Jobs have been cut, "reporting" and the writing, editing and spell check has never been worse, save two local columnists. Its still a bargain and still gets delivered to my door in the mid-late afternoon. And I still look forward to getting it, although I can read most of the paper online before it actually arrives. For me, there is something very compelling about reading an actual newspaper. I hope that the industry finds a way to stay alive. Let's not forget the other uses for the paper: wrapping up breakable items when moving; washing windows with the paper (hey---it works GREAT); lining the bottom of the birdcage and the classic paper-training your puppy. How ya gonna do that with your computer???? Will you let him pee on your MAC? Just sayin'........

Good point about the peeing on your Mac. It should be a newspaper ad.

I remember when they used to print divorces, too. They still print property transactions - my fave - along with the local police blotter. How many calls the cop gets about someone outside looking suspicious is beyond me.

Sarah--your comment about the police blotter reminded me of the Durango Herald (Druango, CO.). Their police blotter, which is available online provides some of the best entertainment around. Here's a few examples from the past couple of days,plus the link:
1:45 p.m. A vacuum salesman was being rude to someone in the 100 block of County Road 307, south of Elmore's Corner
9:26 p.m. A woman called police wanting to talk to them about her mother who calls police on her all the time, according to a report in the 100 block of Snowy Peaks Way in Southwest Horizons Ranch.
2:11 a.m. Someone smashed pie all over a man's white Dodge Ram in the 600 block of Main Avenue.
4:12 p.m. Someone was selling magazines and asking odd questions in the 2900 block of West Second Avenue
8:01 p.m. A man was intoxicated and couldn't stand up in the lower 100 block of Westwood Place.

You just can’t make this stuff up.


Wait a minute!
What would Jay Leno do for the goofy headlines if we didn't have newspapers?!!

Thank you, Lynn....And here I thought OURs were funny.

How do they keep a straight face down at 911.

My favorite is the woman wanting to get her 2 cents in on Mom.

Yeah, Charlie! . . .and no, these days I think the idea of a candidate loving his own wife on a daily basis would be quite refreshing to the voters, besides being appropriate geographically for Middlesex resident Charles Merriman. . .

you know what I'll miss? Clippings. My aunt Marie used to send us clippings. My mother-in-law sent clippings. What will become of my personal clipping gene? ANd those yellowed pieces of paper with recipes on them?

End of an era.

I'm with the puppy faction here. As long as there are puppies, there will be newspapers. Besides, I want my daily Sudoku on paper . . .

"Will you let him pee on your MAC?"

Not as long as I can find a copy of Windows Vista.

I still find it tiring to read online for long periods. Also, I don't want to have to have all this new technology. I don't want a smart phone, and the thought of paying several hundred dollars for a Kindle or e-reader bothers me. And how do you carry around the crossword puzzle to do in the bathroom or at the lunch table?

But I could probably manage. What really bothers me is that people like my mother, who refuses to have a computer or cell phone, because she just plain doesn't want them, will no longer have a newspaper to read. I hope our local paper, the Concord Monitor, outlasts her (she is 75, and I hope to have her around at least another 25 years).

<(she is 75, and I hope to have her around at least another 25 years).
I'll join you in that wish, and another that you enjoy her as much and as long as you can. I saw a cardinal outside my window and thought how much it would have pleased my mother, and she's been gone nine years.

I also can only read on-screen for a little while. then my eyes demand a break.

BTW---Sarah, I researched a little bit on your Dad. Very impressive. Seems there is a bit of ink in the genes in your family.

I appreciate the work of all people who share information with others.

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