Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Op-Ed: You Read it Here First: Newspapers Suck


Photo Illustration by Alexander Porter

By Ben Kelly
Yesterday I was surfing the Internet on my T-Mobile Sidekick for porn and/or celebrity tidbits when I accidentally clicked on a link to an article: "Newspapers Struggle to Avoid Their Own Obit." It was in something called The Christian Science Monitor. The article wasn't about Jesus, though. It said that this journalism professor, Philip Meyers, has written a book, The Vanishing Newspaper: Saving Journalism in the Information Age, which says that newspapers are doomed. Meyers predicts that by 2050, newspapers will have "lost their last reader."

Thank God. I mean, who reads the newspaper? What is this, the 1950s? Should I pick up a paper while I wait for the commuter train to take me to my Madison Avenue job? Maybe I should circle items of particular interest with my Montblanc fountain pen, so I have something to talk to my housewife about over Tom Collinses. The article went on to say that "young people" are to blame for nobody reading the paper anymore. I don't see it that way, exactly. I think it's more the fact that newspapers are really lame.

"Newspapers will have to be smart about distributing the news in the way [young] consumers want, or they won't be relevant," Sammy Papert III of Belden Associates, a newspaper research firm, is quoted as saying. He goes on to offer a bunch of ways to get people like me to become readers, like free papers and entertainment sections. Well, I've got some news for you, Sammy Papert III—no one I know is going to pick up any fossilized newsrag, no matter how many Sudoku puzzles you stick in it. That's because there are much, much better ways to stay up to date.

If you're really serious about the news, there's TV. The few times I've tuned in, there were experts there to analyze whatever global crisis in TriBeCastan we're supposed to care about. Plus if you want to get really in depth, you can watch the news on a couple different channels, to compare coverage. And, unlike the stupid newspaper, you don't have to read.

But if you're like me, when you flip on the TV, the last thing you want to do is learn something. You know what's way more convenient? A little thing called the World Wide Web. There's all kinds of information on there. Like, the other night I made a bet with my friend Paul about what the name of that blimp on the cover of the first Led Zeppelin album was, the Hindenburg or the Heisenberg. We never found out the answer, but we did get to see those Britney Spears pictures everyone's been talking about. And if those are on there, I'm assuming there's probably a good chunk of news stuff, too. If that's what you're into.

You know what's weird? I read that report about newspapers dying out in the newspaper! I bet I can tell you what's really going on: a bunch of journalists decide to get themselves some sympathy by pretending that their beloved newspaper is on its last legs. That way, people will start reading the paper, thinking they better do it while they have the chance. 'Course, with all those new readers, the papers will actually be doing fine. It's like classic rock bands that are always going on their farewell tours, only to announce at the last show that, because of how successful the tour was, they're going back to the studio to put out their, like, 900th album.

So, while I hope that the report is true, and that, by the time I'm sixty-five, newspapers will be something my grandchildren will pester me about, the same way I used to ask Grandpa Dan about speakeasies and food lines, I doubt it. After all, you can't believe everything you read.

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