In the past year or so I’ve run across people who in conversation say “I don’t read the newspaper. Too many ads. It doesn’t have anything I need to know.”
I realize anyone reading this bit of opinion right now is not the audience I should be trying to reach. “Preaching to the choir” I believe it’s called. But if those of us who recognize the role newspapers play in our world would be just a bit more thoughtful in our responses when we hear these comments, our newspapers would have a tad easier time of surviving in this digital “on demand” age.
I should preface these thoughts with a disclaimer. I’m a news junkie. I’m certain it started when I was 9 or 10, delivering The Courier and the Des Moines Register from an oversized canvas bag that hurt my shoulders and probably created the long-lasting pain in my back. Walking along, folding the day’s news into carefully formed missiles, I would read, yes, read the words that were right in front of my face before firing that missile at its intended target.
Over time I became enthralled with news of all kinds, eventually going to work at The Courier as a copy boy, that person who tended the news teletype machines, ran completed stories to the basement Linotype operators and fetched the first printed copies from the original lead-plated letter presses that produced a din I can still hear to this day. That news junkiness pointed me toward studying the “new journalists” of the 1960s and 1970s and landed me in the newsroom, among the brown shoes, baggy suits and fedoras of veteran wordsmiths who knew everything there was to know about our town.
Idealism disappeared after a few years when I discovered the guys selling display advertising made more than me and I headed off to “commercial business land,” but I never lost my love for anything related to news.
But back to newspapers and their relevance in today’s electronically sopped world. I wonder how people find out how their kid’s school district is changing or where they get information about new business developments that could impact their daily lives? Do we truly rely on two-minute (or less) segments on the TV news (sorry Ron Steele and crew) to get everything we need to know?
I’ve heard all kinds of people (young and old alike) say “I didn’t know about that” or “Gee, I wish I would have known that needed to be done.” If we think social media is our best source for news or that word of mouth is any more accurate than it was in the days before newspapers, we are kidding ourselves.
Newspapers historically have played an incredibly significant role in forming our democracy. (Here comes the civics lesson.) Without newspapers we would have been devoid of information we could rely on. We need to know issues that impact our lives will be discussed, sometimes in depth, so we could make informed decisions. I wonder today just how “informed” we are as we collect bits and pieces of news, tacking them together into a fractured litany of opinions, slanted views and unfinished thoughts.
I can agree newspapers of today are not they were in their infancy or even what 10 or 20 years ago. The publications have had to downsize and streamline as advertisers (yes, those folks who truly pay to produce the newspaper) have headed toward digital vehicles to carry messages. And who has time to sit down and actually read? Why would we take the time, maybe all of 15-20 minutes out of our day, to read an in-depth story about a local governing body struggling to maintain a community service or how our schools are trying to change to meet the needs of our youths?
Newspapers continue to play a role in our democracy, providing the in-depth view of issues and related topics that make our lives better or worse. As history is made, newspapers record and archive it, providing the window we need to look back at how things were done and why.