Friday, January 9, 2009

The Death of a Newspaper

I have been a newspaper reader all of my life. I recall the first time that I read was the Sunday funnies. The family noticed and made a fuss, so I guess I was reading. Over the years I have subscribed to at least one newspaper, usually two. When growing up, we had a morning paper, the Springfield (MA) Republican and an afternoon paper, The Berkshire Eagle. On Sundays we would get the Springfield paper and the NY Post. Getting a chance to read both allowed to get different points of view on many issues. There was a certain satisfaction in my family during Saturday or Sunday lunches, reading the papers sharing sections and discussing what we were reading. I learned more about government and the world around that table than I did during most of the social studies classes I ever took in school. There was a newspaper out on the table all day, we would pick up a section and read things that we skipped the first time though. I learned a whole bunch of useless facts by reading the space filling tidbits below articles, I miss these. When we were young, and traveling to visit relatives, we could tell when we reached the hotel we were staying in, as my father would buy the local newspaper. It is nice to see what is news in various parts of the country, such as hog prices in the mid-west or ocean issues in coastal areas. During my adult life I have lived in areas that have had good newspapers, Boston, Charlotte, Raleigh, and Chicago. These papers were supplemented by the local county or town papers, the Statesville (NC) Record and Landmark, Laurinburg (NC),Exchange, Sanford (NC) Herald, Macomb (IL) Journal, Livingston County News. I always fell as if the world is not quite right if I have not read a morning paper.

In 1982 USA today made its debut. This was the beginning of the end for newspapers. USA today used short articles, color printing, bullet points and graphics to tell their stories. I only felt the desire to read this paper if nothing else was around. Lightweight news and no comics, not what I am looking for in a paper. In the years following, other newspapers tried this upscale tabloid approach, cutting long stories or multi-day reports, adding flash and less substance. This slow decline in newspaper quality has been disappointing, to say the least, there is little intellectual stimulation if the story needs to be told using pictures or question and answer format. Newspaper readers want to read. They want information. I read eating breakfast and after work sitting in a comfortable chair. In my opinion the smell, feel and sound a paper makes are all part of the experience.

We are being told that the newspaper is being driven out of business because people are getting their news from the Internet. I too use RSS feeds to get information, but much of what people read on computers is chosen to be within their comfort zone, some will only get information from sites that have a hard right bias and others their news is only from far left sources. A newspaper is a place where many different viewpoints are given. The editorial pages present many view points, these views are presented side by side. It at least exposes the reader to other ideas. In the echo chamber or TV news, we need to have the depth offered by a newspaper, that is a newspaper that can write to readers who want depth. The newspapers are putting more information on line. I want to sit in a comfortable chair with a paper, or at the table with a paper, not in front of my computer, in a chair similar to what I have been sitting in all day.

Our local paper, The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, has been in steady decline for the nine years I have been reading it. When we first moved to the area, it was a decent paper, with good funnies. The reporting was OK, but the standard for mid-sized cities. Over time, the printing has become smaller, I suddenly needed a magnifying glass to read the Sunday Funnies and crossword puzzles. The living section, which had some local stuff was running more articles from other papers, there were fewer investigative pieces, it seemed as if the reporters were more stenographers than actual reporters. The style of writing has become more "Personal" with the mention of some person or family in the area that something like gas prices were effecting. Report the news, I don't care really how a family has cut down on going out to dinner three nights a week to pay for gas. This paper is supposed to be covering the area, yet most of the information found is related to the eastern part of the county (the rich area) The west and south are generally ignored. I know that is where the money is, but we in the hinterlands are interested in other things than the expensive store opening up.

Last month the paper cut the editorial pages from two to one, except for Saturday. Previously local editorials were on the right side and national columnists were to the left. This gave enough room for issues to be discussed. Now with one page, the discussions are shortened. The letters to the editor are fewer, giving less feedback on the writing.

This past Sunday there was a letter from the President and Publisher of the D&C, talking about making changes to enhance our reading experience. There are claims that there will more investigative reporting, will believe that when I see it. But what it boils down to is each section is 6 pages in length. Hardly enough to make sections, just make two sections. The NY Times crossword puzzle is gone, giving us the Newsday puzzle, a drop in quality by several steps. I knew the Times puzzle was on its way out, when the moved it to the classified pages, at that time I spoke to the editor of that section and was assured the Times puzzle would always be there. So with that promise given I have to take the publisher's comments with a grain of salt. All I see is the dumbing down of the paper, not something newspaper readers want, in the hope of getting "others" to read . It won't happen, and folks like me, life long newspaper readers, are left out in the cold, thinking about canceling their subscriptions.

1 comment:

tsakshaug said...

As of Today, the D&C has put the NYT crossword back in. I think several readers complained