A moment of silence, please, for the recently departed. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer was 146; the Rocky Mountain News was three years older. They’re the latest additions to the roll of the honored dead, two of which were from hereabouts: The Dallas Times Herald (RIP 1991) and The Houston Post (1995).
There was a time when it wasn’t at all uncommon for big cities to have at least two daily newspapers, each of them putting out morning and afternoon editions. Not to mention extras that newsboys would hawk on the streets when juries came in with important verdicts or crooks got arrested or things blew up.
We shouldn’t assume that the newspaper graveyard is full; in fact I’ll predict that it’s in for an expansion. Not because journalism has hit the skids; papers are mostly as good now as they were in their heyday, but as an author and avid reader I resent the fact that so many of them have done away with on staff book critics and rely on reviews from other publications. The reason of course is that wicked old bottom line: cost. For whatever reason — I could nominate several — fewer and fewer people are reading newspapers. Or, I fear, reading much of anything. So when the readership and the ad revenue dwindles, journalists have to find new lines of work.
One time I bought a couple of copies of the Sunday paper in Houston. I needed the book review sections for my creative writing class and I wanted them to have the actual newsprint, not sheets conjured up by a computer and regurgitated out of a printer.
My own copy of the paper had arrived in my front yard early that morning, and it seemed a shame to throw away the rest of those two bulky masses of information, minus only the sections I needed. So I offered them to a couple of policemen on the sidewalk. The older guy thanked me and said he had a copy at home that he looked forward to reading that evening; the other fellow, maybe all of 21, shook his head.
“I get all the news I need right here,” he told me, tapping a sleek device: a cell phone or iPod or BlackBerry or some other beam-me-up-Scotty contraption. His partner grinned, and asked him if he ever really used that thing to get the news.
To which the young fellow responded that he could if he wanted to.
Which is absolutely true. But being able to do a thing and doing it are two very different endeavors. As a general rule, more and more of modern society stays as clear of the news as it would a mean stepmother.
These days it seems most folks are content to watch a reality show or two and think they’ve really gotten a dose of reality, or listen to a bellicose, blabbering host of a radio call-in show — at either end of the political spectrum — and think they’ve actually gotten the news.
If I might offer a subtle opinion: They haven’t.
It will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I am much in favor of newspapers. I start every day with two of them and they are as essential to me as coffee. When I travel, I look for the local paper wherever I am, thoroughly enjoying the big boys like The New York Times and The Washington Post and just as thoroughly, and maybe more so, the tiny publications — usually weeklies — that are mighty strong threads in the fabric of the nation. I do believe that reading the sheriff’s report in a rural paper is as satisfying as a wedge of coconut pie in a country café.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not opposed to technology, or gadgetry. A little gizmo that can tell me the time in Cairo and the weather in Iceland is dandy. But it’s not a newspaper.
A newspaper is something I can stretch out with in my favorite chair, ruffle the pages and wander slowly through its various sections. Then when I start to nod off, I can spread the whole thing out wide over me like a blanket.
I keep thinking that America will awaken from its own nap and rediscover newspapers before they’re all gone.
But the day might very well come, hopefully after I’ve had my last word on this matter or any other, when a child will dig down into a trunk one rainy afternoon and pull out an old paper, brittle and brown in its dotage.
“What is this?” that child will surely ask.
And some ancient, sad soul will look at the relic being held aloft by smooth, tiny hands and smile.
“It —” the great-great-grandparent might respond, a flood of memories rushing out of the dark past, “— was wonderful.”
3 thoughts on “Read all about it, while you still can”
Ditto. I was raised to read the newspaper everyday. And do. Molly Ivens will always be a hero to me. After the Dallas Times Herald made its final announcement, Molly wrote (paraphrased) “They would make the big announcement on a Sunday. All the liquor stores are closed….”
Good morning Ron! My ‘kids’ were thrilled with their signed copies of your new book! I wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed your blog today. I forwarded it to my family in Va and DC as we have a newspaper family. My dad who just celebrated his 98th birthday was in production at the Richmond Newspapers for many years. Actually he began working for them when he was 8 and delivered papers on his bike. My sister-in- law is an editor at the Washington Post . At one time she was editor of Book Talk, if I can trust my memory. Thank you for a great article ! Barbara Adkins
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I just cut out Miss Gin’s column from the FACTS. I hope my husband doesn’t notice the holes in the paper. They no longer deliver the Houston Chronicle on my rural road.
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