I know it isn’t cool to say this in 2019, but it needs to be said. Let me get this out in the open, and state it for the record. I am a newspaper addict. On vacation, I pack a roll of quarters, and I have been known to track down the last paper rack in town. If I cannot find my daily dose of news and puzzles, I become cranky and irritable.
Sure, I prefer the inky version I hold in my hands, but any old platform will do. I must have my daily paper, plus a few more if they’re handy. I’m the guy who grabs the paper you leave behind at the restaurant or the airport. I haven’t yet dug one out of the trash can, but it has been tempting at times. How would it look to see a grown man, scavenging for the sports section? “That poor man,” onlookers would say. “He’s probably hoping there are some fries wrapped up in that paper.”
So yes, I’m hooked on the Daily Bugle and the Weekly Town Crier. I give full credit to my parents. They were not highly educated people, but they wanted to be informed, even in a rural area long before the internet age.
When I was just learning to read, we subscribed to the daily newspaper, and Newsweek magazine. Those sources, along with television news and encyclopedia sets, were my windows to the world.
Of course, the encyclopedia publishers surrendered to Google and Wikipedia long ago. Newsweek is also a thing of the past. TV news survives, although splintered, and seen by many as partisan and shrill.
That leaves newspapers, like the one you are reading now. Whether you are holding it in your hands, resting it on the table next to your coffee, or scrolling down a screen, this beloved paper has beaten the odds.
Obituaries for local newspapers were written a decade or two ago. Some were premature, but others were accurate. You will not find many millennials or Generation X-ers with ink on their fingers. (You will, however find them wearing ear buds, with eyes aimed downward toward their tiny screen, unaware of oncoming traffic.)
In addition to the financial fallout, newspapers have come under attack from politicians. Opinion writers were once respected for offering reasoned, educated views. They enjoyed the luxury of letting a news event simmer for a day or two, and taking time to digest it before rendering a verdict. Now, a “breaking news” story is shouted down by all sides within minutes on a cable channel near you. Incredibly, that is the news of choice for some.
Thoughtful columnists on both sides are now roundly criticized by those who are accustomed to following only media outlets that echo their take on the world. Anything less, they believe, is un-American.
As newspapers struggle to stay solvent, please remember this. In many small towns and counties, local journalists serve as the only watchdog for citizens. Thankfully, most elected officials serve for the right reasons. But as proven recently in several state capitals, we still have foxes in the hen house. Many shady politicians have been removed, or are on the way out, and the press played a major role in exposing their wrongdoings.
So we can complain about the comics being smaller, the columns narrower, subscription rates higher, and in some cases, the publication and delivery dates less frequent.
We can also mourn the loss of staff members, and the shrinkage of the newsroom. This is all the result of cutbacks, just to stop the bleeding and stay alive.
Where are newspapers headed? No one really knows. Whether your children and mine eventually get their news on paper, electronically, or by twitching their nose, we must continue to support independent reporting. We have seen what has happens when there are no checks and balances in foreign countries, and now we are starting to see it in parts of the USA.
A wise person once said that nations with a free press will never starve, because journalists will find the food, and tell you how to get it.
If it makes you feel better, you can hate the news outlets and reporters with whom you disagree. But if you’re fortunate enough to have journalists in your town who are dedicated to “comforting the afflicted, and afflicting the comfortable,” be grateful. Give them a hug, or the more politically correct pat on the back. Renew your subscription, and do business with their advertisers. If you ever lose your local reporters, you lose much more than a companion for your coffee. You lose oversight and accountability. When that happens, everyone loses.