Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Extra! Extra! Read all about it!

Last week, the Times Co., which owns The Boston Globe (the newspaper of record in my town), threatened to shut down The Globe if the paper's unions didn't quickly grant some hefty concessions.

The Globe, like most/all big city newspapers, is struggling. The classifieds have been replaced by Craig's List. The signature downtown department stores have all been swooped up by Macy's. The car ads are online.

A few weeks ago, I picked up The Globe for the first time in ages, and I was shocked by how thin it was. (Not to mention how much of the content was from generic news services, which I have, of course, observed online as well.)

My having bought a copy for the first time in ages is as symptomatic of the troubles newspapers are grappling with as the lack of advertising. I've been a daily newspaper reader since I could read, and a daily Globe reader for the last 40 years. So if I'm not buying...

Somewhere along the line, I started reading the paper online. Everyday, I read online articles from boston.com (The Globe's online presence), as well as from The NY Times and The Wall Street Journal (the latter for which I pay over $100 for an annual subscription). When the printed newspapers are in front of me, I do relish reading them: you really read more and better when you're grazing through the entire newspaper, rather than just clicking on whatever headline/lede grabs your attention. (I used to read all the obituaries in The Globe. Not anymore. Not to mention all the letters to the editor - which were actually signed, and were thus more thoughtful and cogent than the anonymous screed that accompanies most articles on boston.com.)

(Curiously, I hate reading magazines online, and subscribe to - and avidly read - The New Yorker, The Economist, and The Atlantic, as well as a few less newsy mags.)

But these days, for me, reading the physical newspaper means being on vacation: part of the overall vakay enjoyment. It's no longer an everyday matter.

But newspapers themselves, and the function they perform, are an everyday matter - and their continued existence can and should matter. Personally, I don't so much care whether they survive on paper or online, as long as they survive somewhere.

Sure, it's interesting to read iReports and see what's happening after the tornado in Backporch, Kentucky, as reported by some local with a digital camera and an Internet connection. But we really do need professional reporters who can tell us more than just "looks like the next door neighbors' chicken coop went airborne."

We need reporters who will brave Darfur - and downtown Binghamton - and let us know what's happening. We need reporters who have the time and resources to ferret out "the truth" about why the tornado siren didn't go off in Backporch, Kentucky, leading to loss of life, limb, and chicken coop. We really can't rely on getting our news through amateurs relying on gossip.  We need investigative journalism, not just innuendo. We need intelligent, thoughtful articles and commentary on politics, the world, the economy - whether it's coming from the lefties at The Times or the righties at The WSJ. And whether it's online or in print, it has to be the written word - not videos and soundbites that may inform us, but do little to edify us (and likely contribute to the nationwide attention-span deficit and hyperactivity).

I don't know what "the answer" is to any of this.

Yes, I pay for the WSJ, and would pay for The New York Times and boston.com. 

And I don't think it's too late for a subscription model.

On second thought, it may be too late for the subscription model for the current players. But I certainly hope that, if our newspapers collapse, there'll be something to replace them. Maybe it's only a few national newspapers that survive: USA Today, God help us, would probably be one of them; but so might The Times and The WSJ. Maybe they're augmented by smaller, locally oriented papers that just focus on local news (and local ads). There's certainly a model for success with small town, suburban news outlets. Maybe that model gets transported back to the larger cities, too.

I just don't want to live in a world without news, or in a town without newspapers.

And, I promise, if The Boston Globe survives, I'll start buying it. Maybe not regularly. But occasionally. Maybe I'll get it on Sundays. How's that for starters?


Interested in some intelligent commentary on this subject? Read Sophia Carroll's "My Generation Is Information-Hungry and Freeloading: Make Us Pay" over on The Huffington Post. Sophia is a friend, a writer, and my virtual niece. Go give her a read.

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