Newspapers are in trouble. From New York to Memphis to Los Angeles, they're losing advertisers and readers and cutting their budgets and their staffs.
The problem, we have decided, is the Internet. Young people spend way more time on computers than they do holding newspapers. So newspapers are putting their content on line and trying to figure out how to get advertisers and even readers to pay for it.
The funny thing is, if the printed newspaper had been invented as an improvement to the online newspaper, people would recognize its advantages. Such as:
Newspapers respect your privacy. When you read a newspaper online you get pop-up ads and cookies that tell strangers where you go and what your interests are. What you read in the paper is your own damn business.
The printed newspaper is a perfect information delivery system. It is ideally suited to taking to bed, the kitchen, the coffee shop, or the bathroom. You can pick and choose what to read and when to read it. You can tear out articles and ads you want to save or give to someone or leave on your dresser or in your pants pocket.
Anyone who tells you they're reading a newspaper on a cell phone is lying. At most, they're glancing at headlines. It's hard enough to read a newspaper on a laptop computer screen much less a desktop. You can take a laptop to the bathroom, but that's uncouth. Bathrooms and newspapers, on the other hand, were made for each other.
If you don't have broadband, it takes a long time to load stories, and there is always the possibility that your computer will crash or lock up, especially if the story has a lot of pictures. Newspapers get wet but they don't crash. I can only remember two times in the last 24 years when my daily newspaper was not delivered to my driveway or front door.
The newspapers you carry around or leave on your coffee table or desk make a statement about the kind of person you are. A computer or BlackBerry makes a statement about what you can buy.
You can read a newspaper and talk about it with the people you live with as a morning ritual. It's a communal experience. Gazing at a computer is a personal experience.
The printed newspaper is morally superior to the computer. General circulation newspapers don't have porno in them. You have a better chance of influencing your children to read, stay informed, and think about current events with a newspaper than a computer. The fact that the news is not about them is exactly the point -- there's a big world out there, kid, and it ain't all about you and your friends.
Newspapers have good manners. If you want to pester the crap out of your friends by telling them what you're reading or what some pretentious columnist is thinking even though they don't care, you have to buy several copies or print them on a copier and hand them out. By the time you do that you're out a few bucks and several minutes and your friends are probably off the hook. With a computer and e-mail, they don't have a chance.
Newspapers are a bargain. That's especially true of this one, which is free, but it's also true of The Commercial Appeal, which is getting better, and The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, which have more information in them each day than most books. Those two newspapers charge for online content, as well they should. Value for value. Full access to The New York Times costs about $50 a year. A year of AOL and its idiotic promotions and features costs about $300.
Finally, printed newspapers support working journalists. So what?, you say. Well, somebody has to gather information by going to meetings and interesting places and events and talking to people with different points of view. Somebody has to pay for that, and so far online advertising doesn't come close. Opinions and blogs and summaries of other people's work may be interesting, but they're not news. So go buy a paper.