|Speed Bump comic, 2 January 2009|
The other day I read a depressing/distressing op-ed piece in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Columnist Ted Diadiun wrote about his experience working with a journalism class in Kent State's grad school of journalism. He found the students "smart, literate, engaged, and serious about their educations. They came to class well-prepared, turned in their work on time, and took our conversations about the broad range of ethical issues they would face in the communications world seriously."
So ... the problem? "Almost none of the students," says Diadiun, "cared a whit about newspapers." (Here's a link to article.)
We all know--on some level--that this is true. I can look up and down our suburban street in the morning and see that fewer people are having papers delivered. And I have to say that during all my countless hours sitting and reading in coffee shops I've rarely seen a young person reading a newspaper. (One regular exception: a local soccer coach and his son sharing the sports pages.)
Technology, of course, is Darth Vadar in many accounts of this change in cultural habits. But newspapers are at fault, too. They underestimated the power of the Web--and, by the time they caught on, it was too late. Newspapers have folded (unintentional pun) and shrunk all over the country in recent years, and the trend is certain to accelerate. The once mighty Plain Dealer no longer publishes every day (several days it's Web-only), and its heft and staff have shrunk considerably since I first began reading the paper nearly 60 years ago.
And the Internet is just much better for many things. One obvious example: We used to have to wait till the morning paper arrived to find out who won last night's game (and often the game ended after deadline, so we had to find out on the radio). So--for instant information about unfolding events, newspapers are just vastly inferior. They all have websites now, but I'm guessing not too many young folks have them bookmarked. News stories come in other ways--via links on their home page, Yahoo or Google or whatever.
I think newspapers can do a better job than the Web with features and op-ed and reviews and the like, and I've sometimes wondered what would happen if, say, the Plain Dealer would confine its news coverage to the Internet and focus its paper production on local features and analyses and opinion and reviews and ...
Newspapers have also had a hard time figuring out how to keep their content secure (and salable) while still making it readily available. You used to have to buy a paper--or pick one up that someone else had bought. Now, links and stories fly (for free) around the globe at the speed of light (or Internet), and the only ones making much money are the ISPs.
Joyce and I remain newspaper-types. We subscribe (home delivery) to three papers--Plain Dealer, Akron Beacon-Journal, New York Times--and we also get semi-weekly deliveries of the local Hudson Hub-Times. I don't always read the Times in paper form, though; often I read it on my Kindle at the coffee shop in the morning. And I like to read the PD electronically, too.
I also remain an inveterate clipper of stories, a habit I had as a schoolteacher, a habit I cannot seem to break now that I'm retired. Every day I cut out things to show my (non-existent) students, and I dutifully file the stories in our bulging cabinets. (Son Steve is going to have a ball going through all of that one day!) It's crazy, I know: Not only do I have no students, but I could also find the article on the Internet in a heartbeat--no need to dig through musty and dusty file folders ... Still ...
But I have another worry about all of this--one that hits a little more closely to home: The decline of newspapers has also meant the decline of professional criticism (music, art, architecture, books). Yes, much of this is available on the Internet, but that's what I want to write about next time. Now--because of Amazon.com and goodreads.com and the like--everyone can be a critic. Do I have a problem with that?
TO BE CONTINUED ...