Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Amazing Shrinking Newspaper

When I walked down my driveway to get the Boston Globe this morning, I was taken aback. When I bent over and picked up the newspaper in its usual plastic bag, I was surprised at how physically small, thin and light the package was. Back inside, I checked to see that the main news section had only 10 pages. The metro/local/business section had only 16. The sports section, which - after a quick check for cycling news - is promptly sent to recycling, had eight pages, and that in a town with very active pro and college sports scenes. For the very first time, I think, the classified section was totally absent. I don't recall seeing ANY store flyers.

OK, I know the holiday shopping season is over, so one would expect advertising to be down. I also know online services like Craiglist have made classified ads more or less pointless. But, wow. Undoubtedly the local car dealers have have been a major source of ad revenue, but under the current economic conditions, the car business is in the toilet. I've long thought that one big retailer, Macy's, was single-handedly keeping the paper afloat with its multi-page ads. I'd never voluntarily set foot in the place, but I was grateful to it for propping up my paper.

But, I'm really starting to worry. Can't an area like Greater Boston support at least ONE decent newspaper anymore? I wonder if our current recession may be the last nail in the Globe coffin. I know things are tough all around in the news business, but I am worried and saddened about the prospect of living in a world without one serious newspaper.

The Globe has been shrinking for some time now, and I've been giving serious thought to dropping it in favor of the New York Times, but I really would miss some kind of local coverage. We have a little weekly paper in town, but it is next to worthless as a source of any real local coverage. The Globe rarely has anything to say about our town, but it's nice to read about the region in general.

Why do I worry? Well, let's face it. TV news is a joke. Even the local stations that pride themselves on hyper-local coverage are spending more and more time on any sensationalized national crap that has good video. Even the local coverage is driven by video. Crime scenes, car crashes, perps in cuffs, celebrities and political horse races. In a half-hour news show, a big percentage of the time is devoted to sports, weather, entertainment and consumer news. No longer is there a time and place for in-depth investigation, coverage and analysis of important issues.

I suppose if one is educated and has nothing else to do, one can spend all day searching the web for news and commentary, but I think most of us would benefit from one or two trusted news sources. There is still something to be said for journalism. We need paid, talented, skilled, honest professionals who can sort out the events in the world and make sense of it all for the rest of us. We need hungry reporters who can doggedly dig for a story. We need finely-crafted opinion pieces rather than sound bites. We need honest brokers who can differentiate truth from hype and spin.

Even the Romans gave the people bread and circuses. All we get is entertainment and advertising posing as news. As the title of Neil Postman's book says, we're amusing ourselves to death. We have a collapsing economy, incompetence and corruption at all levels of government and a world going up in flames and all we get are stories about John Travolta's son. Shouldn't somebody be keeping an eye on the serious things for us?

1 comment:

Paul said...

I have searched the web for some source of national and world news that offers some in-depth, thoughtful articles with opposing view points. I haven't found a source. Google News doesn't do it.

Trying to find a good web source for local news would be even more difficult. I doubt it exists.

I've gotten to the point that I wait about 20 years for the news -- after historians have had time to research and publish articles and books.

Have you read some of Thomas Jefferson's quotes about newspapers? He had some interesting opinions.