The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Paperboy

The image of a paperboy is pure Americana. A little kid on a bicycle rides down your block throwing the morning paper onto your front step. It’s an image of youthful initiative coupled with a small town news that is delivered to your neighbors, your block, your town.

Never mind that most paperboys have been co-opted by adults who fling the paper out of their fast moving vans in the early morning darkness. Never mind that the news delivered by the paper is now longer immediate or even relevant. Never mind that the paper and ink media is fast becoming an anachronism and may die out much more rapidly than any of us believed. The image of the paperboy is comforting in an increasingly chaotic world. And it’s for that reason (and possibly only that reason) that some of us continue our newspaper subscriptions.

Andrew Sargus Klein comments on the demise of paper and ink media:
The point is not lost when applied to the very real dismantling of paper media. The Tribune Co.—piloted by Sam Zell and owner of The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and The Baltimore Sun, among others—is on the verge of collapse. The New York Times, the media world’s onetime bastion, is frantically circling the wagons as it borrows against its own assets to protect its brand new building. As the paper seeks to cut loose dead weight, it’s finding that brand amputation costs more in the short run than the former assets are currently worth. The paper has declined 70 per cent in value over the past five years. It’s a grim situation. (I wonder how many New Yorkers see the Times’ stake in the Boston Red Sox as the metaphysical culprit…) Media pundits have been singing print’s swan song for years now. And that song is blaring as America’s storied dailies, weeklies and magazines shudder to a halt, one fiscal quarter at a time. The business models cannot support the medium, as the Internet has so deftly shown—and expedited.

It seems newspapers were just starting to jam their homepages with dozens of blogs, just starting to “get” the whole Web thing. It seems we were just starting to feel out some sort of reconciliation between the “just the facts,” hard-line old media with the loose, first-person new. But as theoretical and invigorating as that debate was and is, it’s largely irrelevant. Newspapers as we know them have failed.

And then there’s the inimitable P.J. O’Rourke who comments facetiously on print journalism’s collapse:
We print journalists are victims of economic forces beyond our control. We were as surprised as everyone else by the sudden collapse of the reliable reporting market. We had no idea that real news and clear-eyed analysis were being bundled with sub-prime celebrity gossip, US Weekly derivatives, and Jennifer Aniston-Angelina Jolie swaps.

We need a swift infusion of federal aid. Otherwise all the information in the US will be about Lindsay Lohan's sex life.

As time passes, I’ve noticed that our paper (The Sun-Sentinel) often remains in its neat plastic wrapper from the time it arrives at our home until it’s thrown into the recycling bin. The fast pace of life (e.g., jobs, social commitments) and the vast array of alternative information sources (e.g., Internet, cable news) make reading the paper a questionable luxury.

The other day my wife and I sat at the dinner table staring at an unopened copy of The Sun Sentinel.

“Maybe we should discontinue our subscription when it runs out,” I stated hesitantly.

She grimaced. After subscribing to a long string of newspapers for almost 40 years, my comment was heresy. “I don’t know. We read it sometimes, don’t we?”

“Yeah, but it doesn’t even look like a newspaper any more.” I stated.

I was referring to the “updated” (and dumbed-down) redesign that no doubt was intended to make the paper more palatable for a younger demographic.

“You’re right,” she said grudgingly, “I have trouble finding the front page – everything looks like the lifestyle section.”

Feeling irrationally guilty, I waffled, “I know, but it’s a shame to abandon the paper, After all …”

The problem was, as my sentence trailed off, I couldn’t think of any solid reasons for keeping the subscription going.

We didn’t actually make a decision about the paper, but it’s coming.

Today, I wrote a Christmas check for our news carrier, a man who I’ve never seen and never spoken to. As I signed the check, I thought of a paperboy and sighed.