Is The Daily Newspaper Dying?

I often find myself lamenting the passing of institutions I assumed would always be permanent fixtures in my life.

My parents, who grew up during the heyday of radio, long before television, lived in a world of two daily newspapers, The Miami Herald in the morning, and The Miami News in the evening.  I was even a paperboy for the News back in 1965, but it died a long time ago.  During my life I saw many cities close their afternoon papers.  Now, all over the country, morning papers are hurting, and some are even disappearing.  I’m wondering if morning papers are going the way of the buggy whip.

Newspaper sections 

My wife and I quit getting the newspaper years ago.  We kept subscribing for years because it was a lifelong habit, but seldom read it.  But we finally realized that most often our daily issues went directly to the recycle bin, and so we stopped taking The Commercial Appeal.  I see fewer people bringing the paper to work, and I assume there are college kids at the university where I worked that never got into the habit of reading the paper with breakfast.

This is sad.  Months ago I bought an issue of The New York Times to read the old fashion way, but I couldn’t. I love reading The New York Times online, but I no longer had the patience to read a printed paper, which involves a lot of flipping, folding, jumping from section to section, and getting ink on my fingers.  My old eyes find it painful to read the paper’s small print.  Susan and I aren’t alone in giving up on our hometown paper, there’s even a web site, Newspaper Death Watch, devoted to the passing of this very old tradition.  Should we all go back to subscribing to save this fading technology?  Are there things newspaper publishers could do to revitalize their product?

I read books and listen to music on electronic devices, so why don’t I read my local paper on my iPad?  On the new miniseries Under the Dome, a newspaper reporter talks to an older woman who tells her she doesn’t take the paper, but gets her news from the Internet like everyone else.  Ouch. 

We have to think about why people were so devoted to newspapers in the past.  For many pre-Internet citizens, reading the paper was the only form of reading they did.  The paper offered news, gossip, social media, advertisements, job want ads, for sale listings, sports scores, stock and bond quotes, cartoons, horoscopes, movies times, recipes, letters to the editor, wedding announcements, photos, etc.  Newspapers packed a lot of entertainment value.  And from this list we can see the answer to why papers are losing subscribers.  The Internet provides the same content, but faster, better, cheaper, and it’s highly customized.  In fact, smartphones, pulling content from the Internet, provides people exactly what they got from newspapers and more, but in a much handier delivery and reading system.  Progress marches on.  It’s cruel, but so it goes.

Newspapers were a delivery system for communication and content – pretty much a printed internet.  I feel sad that all those reporters, editors, linotype operators, pressmen, truckers, delivery people have lost their jobs, but I hope they got jobs at new Internet businesses.  I’d hate to think that local people lost their jobs to out-of-town companies. 

Long before the Internet, many reporters had moved to TV, and we have far more TV stations with news programs than we ever had papers.  So what I’m lamenting isn’t a lack of reporting, but the system in which the news was reported.   If you’re interested, you might find the Newspaper Death Watch interesting to read, it’s subtitle is “Chronicling the Decline of Newspapers and the Rebirth of Journalism.”

To be honest, I’ve never been happy with television journalism, so I wonder if there isn’t something potentially better than the printed newspaper and local TV news show?  More and more papers are working with paywalls to create online newspapers, that include print, photos, sound and video.  The New York Times is excellent, except for their pricing, but if everyone subscribed to it, where would we get local, state and regional news?  Can local news sites make a go of providing news that can compete with TV and national web sites?  Is it possible to make hometown news site?

Anyone can collect their favorite links to a bunch of sites and recreate much of the content people used to get from their local newspaper.  Can a newspaper publisher, with their editors, reporters, and staff create a central site that essentially recreates the old features of a newspaper?  How many people would give up their favorite news, weather, TV listing, movie listing, Craigslist apps to use a centralized service?  Has the App-ization of the world killed off a general purpose tool like the newspaper?  Probably.

I shouldn’t mourn the victims of progress, but I do, even though my buying habits are killing what I miss.  I recently bought my local paper for nostalgia’s sake.  I didn’t like it.  I was like that baby on the YouTube video trying to use a magazine after playing with an iPad.  It just didn’t feel right.  I guess I’m dumb.  I keep buying vinyl records, even though they’re a pain in-the-ass to play.  And I still buy books even though my eyes love my Kindle.  And I keep writing crying-in-my-beer blog posts about the old ways disappearing.  When will I learn?

JWH – 6/30/13