Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Pickwick Papers

I've been pondering the death of several formerly important newspapers, Seattle's Post-Intelligencer, Denver's Rocky Mountain News lately, alongside reported layoffs, financial losses and more impending closures soon. The Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times and Philadelphia Inquirer have already filed for bankruptcy and the san Francsico Chronicle is said to be on the brink. And the result of my pondering about this sorry situation is: so what? I have a subscription to the Key West Citizen and I very much enjoy reading the paper in its printed version. I recycle it, for what that's worth, and rarely I cut out something and preserve the page for a while. I like reading my printed daily paper, and though the Citizen has it's shortcomings, I find it an invaluable read for local news and the comments of the powerful and connected (the only people that get regular voices in the paper or on US 1 Radio).
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Yet I get most of my commentary and news from the Internet on world affairs. Even I, who am not up to speed enough to take advantage of the latest useless electronic interference (Twitter? Who me? I think not), I read online. My web list on Key West Diary contains many of my preferred outlets but not all of them. I like to wander the Web and use other people's list to carry me into unknown territory from time to time. There is so much out there, and by comparison print has no hope.
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The paradox is that print is the original source material, be it quoted or the subject of virulent criticism, the Web relies on "real" reporters to do the leg work. When I was a public radio reporter I used to get mad at the network ( I didn't blog about it because Tim Berners Lee had yet to invent www.) because the only stories they wanted were stories already reported by the New York Times. In the 1980s NPR was the Times on air and I knew there was more to the world than life east of the Hudson. I was in California after all but they didn't want my stories if they weren't in the Times first. I quit journalism when I decided I was too nerdy and not interested in news--lite. I hate "tips." Tips on "how-to" aren't news in my world, nor are lists of the ten best, ten worst, 500 wealthiest and so on.
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The sad part for me is that newspapers have already lost their raison d'etre, which used to be to "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable" as the saying goes. Instead modern papers became vehicles for profit for shareholders and profit and being nosy don't mix. Therefore who cares if newspapers fade away? Which were the reporters that stood up and said the reasons stated for going to war in Iraq in 2003 were lies? They were obvious lies to me, in Key West, and apparently reporters knew they were lies but were too afraid of being labelled unpatriotic to say so. The loss of backbone in that war and the general folding in the face of authority, the inability to speak truth to power made newspapers redundant. And now their shareholders can't squeeze any more profits out of their soft pron approach to the news, so the papers themselves fold. Other than sentimentality I am spending more time wondering what comes next and hoping for the best electronically, rather than looking back at a 19th century institution that finally succumbs to the 21st.

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