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Monday, May 4, 2009

Daddy, What's A Newspaper?

I love reading the newspaper. In fact, reading the paper is one of those very few consistent things that has stayed with me from childhood until now. These days I always read The Scranton Times, every day. Some days I also will read USA Today, and when I travel I always read the Wall Street Journal.


There are obvious reasons why I like to read the paper, including this silly notion that being well informed is good for one's moral fiber. It's also a very tactile experience: opening up the paper, folding it, following stories between pages, etc. requires a certain amount of very small effort, but the effort itself is part of the experience. There is also a certain feel to the newspaper, a non-sanitary experience where you end up with ink on your fingers. It's as if there is this cost exacted for getting this information, over and above the actual cost of the paper itself.

Now I also am a voracious reading of the news on-line. I'm checking mainly Drudge, MSNBC, or FoxNews throughout the day, most days. However, the experience is much, much different when reading the news on-line. That difference is hard to quantify, other than to say that it feels less personal and more sterile. Your fingers can't feel the paper when your fingers are simply clicking on a mouse. Sure, you can't beat the Internet for the sheer volume and immediacy of the news, but those two benefits come at the cost of this sterility.

Why the rant?

I heard on the news this morning (ironic that I "heard" it on the radio) that there is a lot of turmoil in Boston between the management and the employees of The Boston Globe over contract concessions, etc. Like many newspapers, The Globe is suffering in the Internet information age from a generational gap. I can testify to this fact myself: none of my three daughters (ages 15, 16 & 21) regularly read the newspaper, although all three are what I would consider to be well informed for their ages. Yes, this generation has grown up with the notion that information is something that is delivered via a screen. That's a shame, although I'm not quite sure what, if anything, can be done about it.


One of the things that newspapers can still do that the Internet can't is to provide local news in most markets. Now if you live in a major city, such as New York, Philadelphia or Boston, I'm sure that there are credible on-line (only) sources for local news. However, in a small market like Scranton, that simply doesn't exist. In fact, I'd dare say that you could go up-market to a place like Hartford CT and not find credible local news sourced. It does make you wonder where all of this goes.

In the end, this is as much a rant about getting older as it is about the news. You see, one of the things you see vividly when you "grow up" is that some of the institution that you thought were so much bigger than you...things like schools for reality are not so big and in fact are transitory. My high school does not exist any more. The parish I grew up in will cease to exist in a year or two. Will the newspaper be the next institution to not outlive me? It's a sad thought on a personal level, but on a more practical note it's even sadder: how many folks out there will not be paying attention to what is going on without the benefit of a local newspaper?

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