Thursday, October 11, 2007
Newspaper still the ultimate portable document
Growing up in the business, I became cognizant of the most mundane elements of newspapers at a rather tender age. For a reason I still don’t fully understand, the paper business fascinated me from the day I first walked into a newsroom.
And it does so to this day.
Friends and family don’t particularly care to travel with me because I insist on stopping at a newsrack in any town we pass through. So I never leave home without an ample supply of quarters in my pocket.
There’s also something very appealing about picking up that newspaper on Sunday morning and knowing I have nothing more important on my agenda at that moment than to kill some time and a pot of coffee by thumbing through its pages.
In smaller communities where I have lived and worked, Sunday papers are an import from the bigger cities. It was the mailman who traditionally brought the weekly paper to my home on Wednesdays or Thursdays. And that, too, was a highlight of my week.
In fact, in nearly every community where I have lived, I’ve been fortunate to work for the local paper. It’s a profession that truly courses through one’s veins; ink does get in your blood. So there has always been a stack of newspapers nearby to keep me interested in my profession and, more importantly, the world around me.
And I believe that holds true for most adults, even if they are not newspaper junkies like me. Taking the local paper is part of growing up. In fact, subscribing to the paper may be the third item on the checklist after getting married and buying a home.
But we are all subjected to a lot of hand wringing and teeth gnashing these days about the fate of the printed word. Technology and the Internet for some reason have been pitted as the enemy of the printing press. And we all by now have read the dire predictions of grim fate in store for newspapers and other old-school media as devices such as the iPhone and digital video recorders become more common.
But in spite of the newspaper’s simplicity – or, perhaps, because of it – the industry remains a true medium of the masses.
As television audiences are continually fragmented by an endless menu of channels and terrestrial radio fends off challenges from satellite, newspapers persevere as the source of local news and community events for millions of Americans.
This is National Newspaper Week. And it affords those of us in the industry a chance to take stock of the important services provided via newspapers. Hopefully, it will give readers pause, if only for a brief moment, to think about everything delivered daily or weekly to their homes in one convenient package.
Just consider: Youth sports scores and photos, weddings and engagements, local government coverage, classified ads, community calendars, death notices, crime reports, public service announcements, recipes, school menus, comics and crosswords, church happenings, public notices and much more.
In fact, the thrust of National Newspaper Week this year is to focus on public notices – known for years as “legals” – and the importance those ads play in keeping our government and public officials open and honest about the business they conduct. Newspapers have provided this service for centuries, literally, and it’s a central element in the operation of our democracy.
All of this isn’t to say newspapers won’t adapt and evolve. Technology and the digitization of society means more information will continue to migrate to our hard drives and the Internet.
But the newspaper still represents the ultimate portable document format. And we can’t fathom a day when most of us will not want to hold the printed word in our hand as we read the latest information about what’s going on around us.
So I’ll keep those quarters in my pocket, and a newspaper folded under my arm.
(Editor’s Note: Layne Bruce, a former newspaper editor and publisher, is executive director of the Mississippi Press Association. His email address is lbruce @mspress.org.)
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