Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Lamenting the decline of the print media

In the previous post on this blog (April 28), I published a poem by my wife Sybil, lamenting her entrance into the ranks of the octogenarians. Now I have a lament of my own to write. But mine involves a matter far removed from the personal issue of aging.

My lament is about the declining importance of the print media as a factor in modern society. As a journalist who was employed by news magazines and daily newspapers for more than 35 years until retiring 20 years ago, I find the trend particularly painful.

Last year, 15% percent of the nation's newspapers and countless magazines were shut down. So far this year, major newspapers in Denver and Seattle have folded and the circulation of the nation's top daily papers continues to plummet.

As a result, daily papers and magazines of all types are trimming their staffs, reducing their publication frequency, and taking other measures to cut operating costs.

The current economic crisis is forcing publishers to take drastic steps as advertising revenue falls precipitously. For the first time ever, for example, the New York Times is carrying advertising on its first page--a traumatic policy change for the Old Gray Lady of journalism.

In addition to the economic crisis, of course, there is another reason for the print media's decline. Readers are being drawn away by the Internet. More than a half-century ago, television began to lure readers from dependence on newspapers and magazines. Now the Internet is proving to be an even more formidable rival.

I may be an old grouch, but I also worry that the print media's decline reflects the general dumbing-down of America and diminished interest--particularly among young people--in the news of the day. Increasingly, I find people satisfied with what I regard as superficial coverage of vital current events.

I subscribe to my local daily paper and to several weekly news and special-interest publications. I also read nearly a dozen on-line news outlets that are e-mailed regularly to me. The Internet sources deal with specialized subjects or often supplement what I learn from print media.

But in terms of in-depth reporting, commentary and analysis, very few of the Internet news outlets offer what the print media--or, at least, publications like the New York Times--can provide.

Moreover, the strain of reading on a computer screen for lengthy periods of time cannot compare with the ease of reading a printed newspaper or magazine. I don't understand how one can comfortably sustain the attention required for prolonged reading material on line.

But that's probably because I'm a cranky old man with both diminished stamina and vision.

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Blogger Sylvia K said...

Wonderful post as always, Mort! And sad and true, unfortunately! As you said, we've already seen it here in Seattle and newspapers all over the northwest are suffering. I've become accustomed to getting my news and information online, but like you, I miss settling down in a favorite chair to read the paper. I've never been able to get into books on tape etc. because I like the feel of a book in my hands. Hope we don't lose those, too. Thanks as always for your insight and take on a sad turn -- and I question your being a cranky old man -- well, anymore than the rest of us!

Wednesday, May 06, 2009 10:04:00 PM  
Blogger Kay Dennison said...

We still have our local newspaper here and I make sure to buy one every day whether I want to read it or not. I don't want it to die.

Yeah, I can read all the news online but there's somethng about seeing it on newsprint that I find satisfying.

I'm just an old-fashioned old broad!

Wednesday, May 06, 2009 10:19:00 PM  
Blogger Darlene said...

It is a truth that if you want accurate news you have to get it from a newspaper. What is going to happen to truth and accuracy when there are no longer newspapers to read? Who will be held accountable when that happens?
Investigative journalism took a hit a long time ago when publishers stopped funding it.

I share your pain. The dumbing-down of the public is happening.

Friday, May 08, 2009 2:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Nancy said...

Hello Mort,

I cannot live without my daily newspaper. I have read the Philadelphia Inquirer for all of my adult life.

In Winter,like you,I go to Florida and there I read the Palm Beach Post.

When I returned this Spring and wanted to restart my Inquirer I could not get through to Circulation on the telephone. Their tape kept insisting I use the Internet.

So, I went to their site and there were all the choices available to me. They had every contingency covered EXCEPT how to restart the paper after vacation.

I sent an Email to the Circulation manager and asked to restart the paper and explained the fact that there was no place on their menu to start the paper again.

That was a month ago and I have not heard from him. I have been getting the paper because I happened to "Catch" a customer Service rep from another department (Classified) and she sent the order to Circulation to start the paper.

Do you think this casual attitude toward a reader could be a part of the problem with newspapers today?

Friday, May 08, 2009 7:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Ronni Bennett said...

Like you, I worry about the loss of print news being a dumbing down. The popularity of Twitter - messages in only 140 characters worries me in the same kind of way.

Unlike many, I don't believe that the news that remains in papers and magazines is all that bad - at least at the larger organizations. But the loss of investigative stories is a loss to the country and to democracy.

I read somewhere this morning that we are in a period similar to that just after Gutenberg before the various uses for typesetting had been established. And, new kinds of computer screens not far in the future will make reading online easier.

Meanwhile, we wait to see how the print media reinvents itself. I'm eager and curious to see what that will be.

Sunday, May 10, 2009 8:33:00 AM  
Blogger Chancy said...

I join you, Mort, in mourning the demise of many newspapers. Even the outstanding ones that are left, like the New York Times, are
not on solid financial footing.

I have ALWAYS read the newspaper starting with the Athens Banner Herald, the Athens Ga local.

I remember as a child of about 8 years old, my father had a serious stroke and he could no longer read the local paper. I sat in his lap and read to him. I remember him remarking to my mother, "She is a wonderful reader for a child so small" I loved his praise and remember it to this day over 70 years later.

Since moving to Atlanta many years ago I continue reading the Atlanta Constitution which merged with the Atlanta Journal and became one. It didn't matter as far as news coverage was concerned since Cox Inc. owned both papers and it was just a matter of timing. Morning paper or afternoon paper.

We lived in Washington D.C. for 4 years and of course we read the Washington Post.

For many years my husband and I have subscribed to home delivery of the New York Times.

Oh well, Mort. times do change. But I regret,the loss of newspapers.

Monday, May 11, 2009 3:47:00 PM  
Blogger joared said...

I share your concerns about the decline of newspapers. I enjoy being able to read a paper anywhere, anytime in any body position. I've held a Kindle, have a laptop but there's nothing quite like print on paper based on physical comparisons alone. Maybe a netbook will be a bit more attractive based on size, but no equivalent to the newspaper.

In terms of content I've watched the demise of that, too. So many editors and reporters jettisoned. Will they band together in an organization publishing on the Internet? How will they be paid to do the in depth reporting we need? Magazines are a mere shadow of their former selves.

To think I've bemoaned TV news sound bite reporting for many years, Twitter is even less of a competitor on that count. I shudder at all the news about which we may never know, but should.

I think PBS news programs I watch may have increased viewer numbers in the future. I also watch BBC and World News but it's limited in issue reporting depth.

I'm trying to transition to Internet reading while also subscribing to the print editions of some publications. Doesn't come easy to me.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009 4:26:00 AM  
Blogger speculator said...

Thank you for all you write.
I'm a "Gen X-er," raised in cities, and continue my parents' habit of buying and reading the daily newspaper.
The Portland Press-Herald and Boston Globe are bought at work, and I buy the Boston Herald every morning. I read the editorials that I disagree with, along with the ones I favor; I read the funnies and do the puzzles on my breaks. I can only hope these votes of confidence are multiplying out there, enough to introduce the value of newspapers to subsequent generations.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009 7:35:00 PM  

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