CSotD: Thoughts on National Newspaper Week

Clay Jones marks National Newspaper Week (Oct 1-7) with this reminder of a major factor in the decline of newspapers: The odd belief that, while a cup of coffee costs money, information “wants to be free.”

Maybe information wants to be free, but the people who compile it want to pay their rent and buy groceries.

Not that paywalls are a perfect solution. People have tinkered with a variety of mini-pay systems so that readers could purchase a particular article for a small amount, rather than subscribing to the entire paper, but those workarounds never seem to last very long. Fortunately, some papers have the sense to allow readers a certain number of articles before they’re required to pay up.

However, stupidity played a huge role in creating the current screwed up situation. I was present for the move from print to online, and a major issue was that publishers and owners didn’t bother to examine the new format before making their ex cathedra policy decisions.

As Alex notes, there remains no shortage of technical ignorance even today, but, lordy, you should have seen it then.

It wasn’t just that the old guard had their secretaries print out their email for them, but then they’d go into meetings prattling on about “clicks” as if those were something valuable in and of themselves. And as if they had even the vaguest notion of what a click was.

We had one publisher in our small chain who kept insisting that giving away the product was a very bad idea, but he was shouted down by others who knew better. Or thought they did.

The prophet is without profit in his own corporation.

And while the geniuses were pontificating, Craig’s List snuck up behind them, yanked down their pants and stole their wallets.

They still don’t get it, as Tom the Dancing Bug points out.

Perhaps publishers are willing to have offensive, deceptive garbage posted as ads on their websites, but I know the real issue is that they never see what degrading swill is up there. They probably can’t find their own website to begin with.

I sat through department head meetings in this century in which the boss crowed over the number of clicks one reporter’s blog was getting, and insisted that we editors get our staffs to blog, too. (But not to reduce their story count or put in for overtime.)

However, unlike the other dept heads, I’d read her blog, one entry of which was about how only fools believed in the Bible and another was about how falling-down-****faced she’d gotten on her vacation in Acapulco. She was entering all those clicks herself, because if anyone had actually read her adolescent prattling, the offended cancellations would have come in droves.

No, the swill that appears in the ads on newspaper sites is not a sign of the contempt in which publishers hold their readership but rather a sign of their utter incapacity, even at this late date, to deal with the mysterious world of Intertubes.

And, yes, this site has ads. For some odd reason, we like to pay for the expense of doing this. But I hope we’d notice if deceptive and semi-pornographic garbage began to appear.

Also, I don’t have anyone to print out my email for me. I have to read it on the computer thingie.

Joe Heller cuts to the central issue. My standard media-literacy speech for Rotary/Lions/whoever was to note that, because of the Internet, a 15-year-old kid today knows more about other kids in Japan and Australia than about the 35-year-old across the street.

But it goes deeper than that. The newspaper was a sort of utility. College kids might rent a party house with a couch out front, but when they became adults, they’d get a decent place, they’d take care of the lawn, they’d put the utilities in their own names and they’d subscribe to the local paper.

It was part of being a grown-up and part of being a member of the community. And it meant that they knew when the bridge was going to be repaved and they knew which members of the city council were jackasses and they knew how the local high school teams were doing. That’s how a community is built.

When you drove down the road 20 years ago, there was a newspaper tube at the end of each driveway. Today, it looks more like one in 10, but only if the local paper is doing well.

Which starts with the local paper being local, not some generic crap extruded under the direction of the geniuses at Corporate.

It requires having that crabby old newsroom curmudgeon on staff, the one who knows the town front and back plus all the gossip in between. But who now is getting a buyout because experienced staff costs more than freshly minted j-school cubbies.

Juxtaposition of the Day

John Deering

Jeffrey Koterba

Deering and Koterba celebrate the number of ways in which newspapers can be accessed, and, yes, it’s not all “paper” but then we still speak of hanging up a phone, so relax. I only listen to public radio on the radio when I’m in my car; otherwise, I listen to public Alexa.

One missing piece in the switch from print to on-line has been the serendipity of flipping through the pages and stumbling over an article you wouldn’t have looked for on your own. The better on-line papers will feature “most read” teasers or offer pieces that, based on what else you’ve clicked on, you’ll probably like, but it’s hard to replicate the experience of spotting that random piece.

I was looking for something in a bound volume of papers from the 1940s when a 20-something from the circulation department came by and was spellbound by the nine-column layout. “There’s so much to read!” she said.

Reading the newspaper was an evening’s entertainment in the days before television. But publishing all that fascinating content was supported by national advertisements for soap and cereal and by large display ads featuring movies at the local theater and, of course, pages and pages of those classified ads we let Craig’s List walk away with.

This all happening before anyone thought white space was not just good but crucial. Back in the days when wise guys twisted “All the News That’s Fit to Print” into “All the News That Fits, We Print.”

Back when the daily paper was a doorstop, not a pamphlet.

And back before, as Pat Byrnes notes, people lost track of the difference between news and rumors, between well-sourced reporting and tabloid exploitation.

Newspapers — in whatever format you find them — still matter, as much as other utilities like power, water and street maintenance.

All of which people pay for without trying to explain why they shouldn’t have to.

I’ll be heading out to the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists convention in San Francisco at the end of this week. I don’t know if RJ Matson is going to be there, but I sure hope somebody is.

Between the cuts to comic strips and the dismissal of political cartoonists, it’s getting kind of lonely out here.

Fortunately, the inner workings of the journalism profession have been recorded for posterity in this painstakingly researched documentary:

6 thoughts on “CSotD: Thoughts on National Newspaper Week

  1. I kinda wish now I’d printed out at least some of my emails — for at least a decade starting in the ’00s a group of friends from my misspent youth reunited with a perpetual stream of reply-alls that often took on a life of their own, like some sort of online improv… now all lost on platforms and programs that no longer exist (or are at least no longer accessible to newer “better” tech).

  2. I’m old. I cannot visualize the 0600 morning coffee without the Richmond Times Dispatch (and prior to that, the Johnstown Tribune Democrat). Ok, I keep up with the times, I read it on my iPad, not actual paper. And it’s only one paper now. A fifty plus year subscription to the Wall Street Journal originating with my father was dumped after the 2016 election, my being thoroughly sick of the anti-Hillary shrillness. For some reason they kept y on-line account alive, though. I don’t follow ‘alternative’ new sites, as I prefer to stay with sources where I know what the bias is, and can adjust my comprehension accordingly.

  3. I’d love to support my local paper. But. It’s been bought and sold by a series of chains for the few decades. Most recently, it dropped editorial cartoons and cut the editorial page space in half. On an average day, about a third of its national content is reprinted from the New York Times from a day or three earlier. (So I’ve already read it.) Its sports section seems to be put to bed in time for the 6p.m. news. Its entire news staff is smaller than the crew that used to cover the state legislature alone, and they aren’t exactly hard-working. A few years ago, I tried to get a reporter to correct a major error in her coverage of a state Supreme Court case I was involved in, involving a multibillion dollar govt program. She didn’t bother to call me back. Yesterday, for the second time in about a month. I didn’t get my Sunday paper. No attempt to deliver a replacement. Now I only subscribe when I get the 80% off special rate for former subscribers, which means I skip a month or two every now and then. I can’t feel guilty. The owners don’t want to publish a newspaper any more.

  4. George : I still miss Charley McDowell…

    My all access everyday- it’s -printed -scrib to the Akron Beacon Journal has been $18.63 a month for awhile (easy to remember : Gettysburg) Got a letter today it will be $24.70 next billing. Still gonna pay it though…I spend enough time online without doing the puzzles electronically.

  5. I subscribe to the print edition of the Boston Globe, seven days a week. I pay $87.20 per month for it, and the reason it’s only $87.20 per month is that I get a senior discount.

    On the Internet, the truth is behind a paywall; lies are free.

  6. I remember during the 70’s I read the Chicago Sun-Times, mainly for Royco, the movie critics and the general info. There after, the papers lost it with the political brew ha and uprising crime. Most of the TV’s news shows lost it when their best guys & gals got older or retired. ?

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