The Demise of an Old Friend: Newspapers
I no longer read a newspaper on Mondays. At least, not the dead-tree variety. Scanning local news requires going online after our city’s paper recently cancelled Monday deliveries. A fate too familiar to newspapers these days.
I guess I shouldn’t complain too much. Much larger cities—Pittsburgh, New Orleans, and Birmingham among them—have gone through print-edition reductions to three days a week.
Although a recent merger has returned New Orleans to daily status, the long-term trend is not good.
One of the latest examples is the mid-August combination of Gannett and GateHouse Media.
Although the Gannett name survives, GateHouse will call the shots as it oversees some 260 dailies and 300 weeklies.
The Death Knell Sounds
No matter who’s running the show, the decreasing physical size of a typical newspaper and the product within sound like a death knell that no one seems capable of stopping.
As Time magazine noted in a short article about the Gannett merger, about 1,800 American newspapers have died since 2004.
In the first five months of 2019, Time said 3,000 journalists had been laid off.
This downward trend is clearly reflected in our local paper. Not long before canceling its Monday edition, it cut the number of sections most days from four to two.
In addition, it squeezed various features into smaller spaces and made room for Dear Abby on the comics page.
That it did so by running her column in smaller type and shortened the letters to one or two demonstrates reduced content.
The Sunday paper is smaller too, after elimination of some sections and folding some content into others.
The comics section, which at one time ran eight pages, is now four. And part of that space is taken up not only by Dear Abby, but the Jumble and crossword puzzle solution.
The operation has downsized staff, including a talented entertainment editor. He had appeared regularly on local radio and TV stations, and wrote two books that grew out of his regular travel features.
The veteran sports editor is gone, with his duties assimilated by an editor in Charleston, West Virginia, 45 miles to the east.
One wonders how a newspaper operation expects to survive while eliminating its most valuable asset—human resources.
Lately, I’ve scratched my head and asked myself if a daily paper is worth the money.
After all, when I picked up a copy of USA Today in an airport last November, I saw that it had doubled the price while cutting most of its offerings in half.
That’s when I decided the next time I happened to be in the vicinity of a newsstand, I would save the two dollars.
Truth be told, I am likely to continue reading the local paper, even as I sense a grand plot here: pushing us onto daily website reading while the paper version fades into the sunset.
I can’t help it, though. If I want to read what is going on with Marshall University sports, our city council, and other area developments, the newspaper is the only way to reliably keep up with the news.
A Soft Spot for Newspapers
Then there is the soft spot in my heart for newspapers. That’s where I got my start in journalism.
In the past, I would have told any young person who wanted to learn how to write to work for a newspaper.
Why? Because they would learn discipline, story organization, and how to cope with deadlines snapping at their heels, often in the form of a demanding editor.
Learning to write is tough business. With newspapers on the way out, I still wonder who or what will replace the lessons that were so valuable to so many.