Last week, a couple of old friends flew into town to join me for our annual fishing weekend on the Little Red River. We met 22 years ago in Pittsburgh in a YMCA father-daughter program called Indian Princesses, which involved camping, hiking, and pseudo-Indian rituals. Our princesses grew up. We didn't. (Though we no longer wear the "feathers and leathers.")
These guys love Memphis. We always eat ribs somewhere and then roam Beale Street. We had a late night, topped off with an hour or so of watching tourists dance at Rum Boogie. Good times. As far as I remember.
The next morning, we perused The Commercial Appeal over coffee. "What's the deal with this paper?" my friend Kevin asked. "It's tiny."
"They cut the page size 10 percent to save money," I said.
"Well, it's weird."
The conversation rolled on, as we read each other Sarah Palin quotes, stock market analyses, and football predictions. The newspaper — tiny or not — stimulated lively discussions on politics, sports, and the economy.
But daily newspapers are shriveling, some say dying. They're laying off staff, cutting circulation. Newpaper company stock prices are falling. In another 22 years, will people still pass the newspaper around at breakfast?
The Internet is the future, we are told. But all those Internet sites where we go to get aggregated news — the Huffington Post, the Drudge Report, and hundreds of others — depend on newspapers to do the actual reporting.
Opinions, it is said, are like, well, noses. Everybody's got one. That's because opinions are cheap and easy to come by. News-gathering, on the other hand, is hard. Making phone calls to get quotes, flying to the frontlines to report a war, verifying facts with at least two sources, and spending weeks on an investigative story are all expensive endeavors.
Publishing fewer days a week is probably the next option for dailies, but that may only slow the bleeding. I do know that as daily newspapers falter, news keeps happening and somebody's got to report it. Otherwise, political crooks and greed-heads can operate with impunity. Without a healthy free press, the country's in big trouble.