Read It and Weep

I blame it on my sentimental packrat mother.

My tendency over the years to keep unspeakable amounts of crap has led to some pretty exhausting moves, worthy of the largest UHaul truck at the age of 25. Recently, though, I’ve become obsessed with the idea of owning as little as possible, able to pack up and move anywhere my heart desires on a whim (if only I had the money!). But the one thing I find I can never bring myself to sell or throw away is my book collection. Hundreds of books have followed me everywhere—from Lawrence apartment to student ghetto house, and back.

I grew up a child of the print tradition. I like the feel and smell of newsprint, the crack of hardcover binding, and the ability to take a piece of intellect or knowledge with me anywhere—my bed, a comfy couch, a shady tree… the waiting room at the doctor’s office. Anywhere.

And so it is that as I grew up, I learned to value my mornings spent reading the daily paper. It’s really something you don’t think much about, at least I didn’t, until recently as I’ve watched paper after historical paper halt their presses and bid good luck to cities that now must rely (if they didn't already) on the lightning-fast reporting of the interwebs.

It has become a question of ethical democracy. What used to be considered the nation’s leader in “watchdog” politics is quickly and vastly falling to the wayside, failing to stand up against the triumphant (and free!) powers of the internet blogger and even the free archives of the very news organizations that are weakening.

Yesterday a panel of editors, founders and journalists from several American media giants presented to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation their concerns about the future of print media. As senator Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said, “Newspapers and broadcasters have been a check on the excesses of government, business and individuals. But what happens when our watchdog grows mute and can no longer bark?”

But this is not a new problem. Newspaper administrators across the country have been engaged in a debate over how best to keep print journalism afloat while conforming to the ever-changing popular internet format that most Americans get their news from every day. Ken Lerer, co-founder of the Huffington Post, has been condemning media giants for their unwillingness to step into the 21st century with internet news, claiming that they have boxed themselves in and are no longer able to keep up.

So who will step up to the plate and go to bat for the good ol’ printed newspaper?

Senator Benjamin Cardin, D-Ma., introduced the Newspaper Revitalization Act in March to the Senate Commerce Communications subcommittee. It calls for newspaper companies to adopt a different approach to business, and “would allow newspapers to operate as non-profits, if they choose, under 501(c)(3) status for educational purposes, similar to public broadcasting. Under this arrangement, newspapers would not be allowed to make political endorsements, but would be allowed to freely report on all issues, including political campaigns. Advertising and subscription revenue would be tax-exempt, and contributions to support coverage or operations could be tax-deductible.”

This is the same tax allocation given to churches and hospitals, and not everyone is buying into the idea of government-aided media. And besides, would the revenue from tax savings and incentives to donors with tax-deductibility be enough to keep everyone green in the books?

The New York Times Co. just announced a $74 million first quarter loss, and the Boston Globe, though fresh off a compromise with its union, sits in limbo awaiting doom. The 150-year-old Rocky Mountain News of Denver, and the 146-year-old Seattle Post-Intelligencer have halted their presses.

I may spend bored days at work perusing the web for news, stream NPR all day, and hell—I write an internet blog myself. But I won’t be letting go of my morning paper anytime soon, and I certainly won’t be burning my books and picking up a Kindle.

So what is it all worth? How much free press and free speech do we relinquish in the name of saving print media? Or can it be saved at all?


that_will_do_pig 13 years, 3 months ago

A-ha! Murdoch's addressing the state of affairs in newspaper-land... predicting that all his News Corporation-owned newspaper websites will be charging for use within 12 months. He also claims that 360,000 people have downloaded a Wall-Street Journal iPhone app within three weeks, and that prices for such services were about to rise.

13 years, 3 months ago

While one should expect that those who most benefit from the present free press "model" (reporters and editors) would be the most opposed to any change in that model, it is important to keep a couple of facts in mind:

1) As Chrysler and the banks and colleges and everyone else who takes government money soon discovers, there are always hooks. A government that controls the purse strings will always always always use them to influence outcomes. A subsidized press is not and cannot be a free press.

2) The present press model of large corporate news organizations run by unionized worker bees and headlined by blowdried celebrities is not necessarily even a good model, much less the best possible model. It may have been a good model when it was developed (which is why it succeeded), but the fact that it is failing means that it must change.

Change never comes about through subsidy, it is always the offspring of necessity and pain. "Saving" the newspapers in their current form is a way of avoiding necessary change.

that_will_do_pig 13 years, 3 months ago


I agree, and apologize if it I came off close-minded to change. Certainly not. Yet I still don't agree that we have to completely do away with the "paper" paper... but I don't have the answer.

Though it almost makes me wonder how much the optometry industry benefits, seeing as how in the past few years, due to staring at a computer screen all day long at work, 40 hours a week, my eyewear prescription has nearly tripled (and I've been wearing corrective lenses since 7th grade). Maybe it's a romantic notion, but I'm going to yell and scream and fight to the very end til print dies and we all spend our days, every last minute of them, staring at computer screens.

13 years, 3 months ago

Sorry, Jenny, that rant wasn't directed at you personally, not at all. In the words of Dots, "I'm just saying."

In this period of incredibly fast economic realignment, there are a lot of people who think that what they are doing - and more importantly, how they do it and that it be them personally doing it - are mission critical for the survival of society. Those people are howling for the taxpayers to be forced to step up and allow them not to change.

Slogans aside, none of us like change, because it is painful. But change is here, like it or not.

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