Is Print Still The Last Word?

Posted: 08/04/2008 in Uncategorized

What is Black and white and read all over? Remember that old riddle? Of course, we all know the answer is newspapers. Unfortunately, that particular pastime is declining, and putting many old names in the information industry out of business. And Maine is no exception to the trend. A few weeks ago, Blethen News announced it was putting its Maine properties, the Portland Press Herald, Kennebec Journal, and Waterville Sentinel as well as some other names up for sale.

Today, the same company announced further cutbacks and savings measures due to the current economic state and downturn of readership. All across the country one print publisher after another is closing its doors. Unable to compete in the changing marketplace of consumer driven news, the sad part is that the face of journalism is changing for good.

One of the reasons put forth for the declining readership numbers is that people just don’t read newspapers anymore. I tend to disagree with that presumption, but it appears that I am in a minority, and with good reason. One of the prime factors in the change of the newspapers, in my opinion, is the changing ownership roles. Once upon a time, newspapers were mostly owned by individual proprietors, with very few corporate partnerships until much later. Remember some of those old black and white movies where the newspaper consisted of a couple of desks in the front room and a big old printing press in the back? Been a long time since that kind of paper was in business.

One of the trends I have noticed in a great many magazines, especially trade specific, is the way stories and advertising seem to meld into one. It’s hard to tell the difference sometimes. In fact, some “articles” actually are advertisements made to look like real articles. And then there are the articles I like to call “quiet” articles. These pieces are intended to put forth some information, without causing a stir. Carefully worded to promote a corporate message, these articles are almost always totally one sided. A good contemporary issue is the argument touting global warming.

While many of the newspapers present stories to support the issue, very few tell the other side of the story. And over time, a newspaper develops a voice, and it becomes a voice only certain readers want to listen to. And in turn, the market for these papers becomes even narrower in scope, and the cycle of decay continues. Fewer and fewer people buy the paper because it becomes less and less relevant to the world at large. Notice I said “buy” and not “read”? I said that because I have observed a great many people reading newspapers all over the place. But they only read them because they were free.

At almost every fast food joint or diner you can find a stack of papers that you can read, but don’t have to pay for them. Sometimes the business pays for them, other times a customer may buy a copy, but leave it after reading for other customers. Years back I used to do that, and I remember this one customer coming over to my table and demand that I leave the paper for him when I was finished. I told him I bought the paper, and unless he wanted to pay me for it, he’d have to go without. The guy mumbled something about free newspapers being a right or something like that. News ain’t free.

It costs money to pay for reporters to dig up the dirt, and then you have to pay for editors to furrow out the dirt and put it into neat little rows. And then there’s the staff to do the advertising and what not, layout for printing, printing presses, ink, raw paper, delivery of the papers, rent on the building, insurance and on and on.

Life in the US isn’t cheap anymore, so it’s no surprise that some publishers are folding. But we can help reverse, or at least slow down the trend. How? Buy going out and buying your own newspaper, that’s how. And visit the advertisers in your local paper, and let ‘em know you saw their ad in that paper, that’s how. I don’t want to disparage or insult anyone here, but seventy five cents isn’t going to kill you, especially for the benefits that paper brings.

You go out to a diner and spend six bucks on a breakfast, a buck on coffee, and then you’re cheap enough to beg off of someone else’s paper? Come on now, three shiny little quarters for pages and pages of news and information. And don’t forget the comics. What a deal. Support your local newspapers, and keep the industry alive. Buy the local news. News from away you can get for free, just like you’re doing here!


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