I fell in love with newspapers when I was in senior high. Yes, I had looked at newspapers before that and had even been a newspaper boy (as they were called before the gender-neutral term “carrier” went into effect). But love came in my senior year when I realized that the only way I could get close to the girl I had a crush on was to join the staff of my high school newspaper.
She was the editor.
Alas, nothing came of the romance, but consider what it did for me. While still in high school, I became a stringer for my local newspaper in
The neighbor was, in one of those life coincidences, the editor of my high school newspaper. Although I never got to first base with the high school editor and haven’t seen her since graduation day in 1961 (she became a missionary, and if you know me, you can see that would have never worked), I did end up with a great career because of the newspaper business. Now retired, I sit on the sidelines and watch as newspapers continue their downward spiral. And while many people are lamenting the current situation, I need to point out that the spiral did not start yesterday, but can be traced back nearly 100 years.
In my academic career, I helped chronicle the decline, starting with my master’s thesis, “The Death of a Small-Town Daily.” The thesis examined the demise of the Courier, the newspaper that gave me my first paying job in 1961 and disappeared in 1971, subsumed by a neighboring newspaper that subsumed two others and became a regional newspaper. Later I assisted Ben Bagdikian in a national study on why newspapers did or did not survive in the 1960s. That’s enough to make me an expert.
I checked my master’s thesis and found that the highest number of daily newspapers in the United States was recorded in 1910. Then we had 2,200 dailies. The latest figures I can find put the number at around 1,400.
The signs have always been there, although perhaps not as dramatically as they are now, when it’s not small-town dailies being subsumed, but metropolitan newspapers going bankrupt. Of course, today all businesses are suffering. Given that newspapers rely on advertising for revenue and businesses don’t advertise as much in bad economic times, newspapers are taking a hit from which many probably will not recover. Let’s face it: As long as the populations grows, there will be people to buy cars and houses and furniture, but whether or not those businesses advertise in newspapers is not so certain.
As I write this on my computer, having already skimmed headlines in six online newspapers (two from
Google News and similar news collection sites use stories from the AP and papers such as the Times, but they cannot replace them. Can you imagine a Google News reporter going to a hot spot to cover a story? No way. News organizations such as the AP and the Times devote time and money to in-depth articles that Google News merely aggregates rather than develops on its own. That’s the strength of newspapers and that’s what we’re going to be poorer for as the downward spiral continues.