Editor and Publisher posted a very sobering news article today: Several Cities Could Have No Daily Paper as Soon as 2010, Credit Rater Says.
As a journalist, this really hit me hard. It’s been hard to watch newspapers and media outlets all over the country announce huge layoffs. First, I know some of the people represented by those jobs being eliminated. Secondly, I love and have always loved newspapers. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve fully embraced the Internet. Heck, I write two of my own blogs and freelance for another one. I think any publication without a fully realized website is sadly behind the times. And I regularly check numerous newspaper and magazine websites for updates.
But I will always love a real honest-to-God newspaper in my hands. I grew up reading The Birmingham Post-Herald with my Cheerios in the morning and The Birmingham News with my dinner (and later, when they switched times, the reverse). One of the first things that I do when I move to a new city is subscribe to the hometown paper–and perhaps the next closest city’s paper, too. As a grad student at the University of Maryland, I opened my door each morning to find neatly wrapped copies of The Washington Post, The New York Times and The Baltimore Sun. When we lived in Twentynine Palms, California, I subscribed to the paper I wrote for, The Desert Sun, but we also got daily delivery of The Los Angeles Times, too. Here in Nashville, we only have one daily paper available to us, so I subscribe to The Tennessean, but old habits die hard, so we get The New York Times on weekends.
And when I travel, I always buy a copy of the hometown paper each day that I’m in a particular city. When we went to Holden Beach, NC, this summer, we bought a copy of the daily paper from the closest major cities each day, like the Wilmington (NC) Star News. When I tagged along with my husband to a medical conference in Boston in October, I bought a copy of The Boston Globe every single day. (And yes, the facts that the Red Sox were in the playoffs at the time and our hotel Internet access was nonexistent contributed, too.)
Fewer and fewer cities have more than one local paper these days. It’s been going on for awhile, though. I’m not even old enough to remember the days when some cities not only had two papers but three or four or even more. But I do clearly remember when many more cities were two-newspaper towns. And that list is shrinking every day. The Birmingham Post-Herald shut down a few years ago. I read about it on the Internet from thousands of miles away in my office in the Bermuda Dunes bureau of The Desert Sun. The Nashville Banner closed down years before I moved back to Nashville. I guess maybe, in light of this news today, I should be just glad that my two hometowns even still have one daily paper to call their own.
And I’m not just sad about this news because I’m a sentimental fool. I mean, yes, I probably am a sentimental fool, but I’m also concerned about the declining number of newspapers, as well as the increased media consolidation that seems to be happening in conjunction. Remember your Ben Bagdikian? Lack of newspapers usually means lack of competition which can mean a decreased amount of information coming to you, the reader, you the citizen, you the taxpayer. I’m delighted that the Internet has given rise to many citizen journalists, blogs and websites that provide news and information to the masses, and I do think that they play an important role, one that we especially need as more newspapers shut down. But there’s just nothing quite like a newspaper dedicated to providing complete local coverage of a community, from happy features about Eagle Scout projects to careful watchdog reports about how city hall is spending taxpayer dollars to explanations of why public school test scores are relevant to property tax values.
I’ve developed a cynical appreciation for the back-and-forth volleying of media columnists over the future of the newspaper: It’s Dead! No, It’s Not! Yes, It Is! Nuh Uh! Okay, It’s Really Dead This Time! No, It’s Not, You’re Just Pessimistic! Well, You’re an Idiot! So Are You! And By the Way, The Newspaper Is NOT Dead!
I don’t think the newspaper is really dead. It’s changing, sure, but it’s not dead. But there’s no denying there are fewer of them out there, and that fact gives me pause.