The Future of Newspapers

In Reading, Writing on February 7, 2009 at 7:07 am

This is the way I read a newspaper: I skim all the headlines; sometimes, if something grabs me, I read what’s on the first page. I rarely read the continued story on another page.  Then I turn to Life and Arts and read the celebrity gossip and the advice columns. I used to read the comics, but decided that they’re rarely funny, so I skip those now. Then I skim the editorial page and the letters to the editor. On Fridays I read the Faith and Values section and on Sunday the House and Garden section. That’s it. I leave the paper on the couch or the floor with the intention of reading it more fully, but I never do. The next day I put in the pile of other papers to be recycled.

The paper I read is The Columbus Dispatch. The Dispatch used to be the evening paper and the morning paper was The Citizen Journal. (I’m old enough to remember two papers a day. ) I was talked into buying a year’s subscription by a student primarily because of the $50 worth of Barnes and Noble gift cards that came with it. The gift cards we spent right away. The papers pile up like crazy, mostly unread. Sometimes I think of canceling the subscription and getting a refund–I could use the money–but I’d feel guilty, for two reasons. One is that I feel that I should read the paper every day to keep up with what’s going on in the world. The second is that I feel that I should support the newspaper industry for fear that it will disappear altogether.

But would I really miss it? Most of the time I get my news from the Internet. I even get breaking news reports from What would it matter if I got all my news and opinion from the Internet? After all, I can read almost any paper I want online, for free. And I’m not wasting paper, or the trees it comes from.  I don’t have to fish my paper out of the front yard  or feel guilty about recycling. But for now, I can still see the value of the newspaper. You can carry a newspaper anywhere whereas lugging even a laptop around can be annoying. You can also get a feel for the whole atmosphere of your community: local news, real estate reports, obituaries (which I admit I also skim sometimes:  I want to see how old people usually are when they die–I’m trying to reassure myself that I have a few more years on this earth!), community happenings, letters to the editor. Most of these items are accessible online, but it’s still not as easy to skim a web site as it is to flip through a newspaper.  And perhaps most importantly, you don’t have to have a computer. I forget sometimes that not everyone has one or feels comfortable using one.

Maybe someday we’ll all have computers and hand-held reading devices. We may even have newspapers you can listen to  (oh, wait, that’s called radio.)  It’s funny that sci fi rarely addresses the issue of how people will read in the future. (Think “Blade Runner.”) There are plenty of references to audio/visual media: screens on the walls in your house that you get your news from, screens as large as billboards on sky scrapers and by highways, screens in your car. But where are the people who are reading? The average person might be okay with electronic devices but I wonder if there will still be those who prefer to hold paper in their hands. And will there be enough of them to keep the newspaper industry afloat?

NOTE: When I got the mail today there was the February 16, 2009 issue of Time magazine with a picture of a newspaper on the front and the headline: “How to Save Your Newspaper.” Coincidence?

Check out the blog Journalism Rehab for more insights about the future of newspapers.

  1. I still get mine for the same reasons, but I think they are doomed.

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