To me, there really isn’t anything better than waking up on a Saturday, pressing some coffee and sitting down with the Washington Post. And no, I’m not one of those people that read the Times even though they don’t live in New York – unless you count mingling amongst the columnists online, or perhaps the occasional crossword (of which yesterday’s version just absolutely crushed me. It wasn’t even close). Nope, I’m a WaPo reader, because I think it’s important to read your local newspaper for, what else, the local stories.
When I get the paper, I don’t just read the front page first. I pull out the Metro section. The B section. Because while reporting on Kosovo and the election is great and often entertaining, it’s not anything that isn’t available from 689,000 other outlets, most of which are a Ctrl+T and a twenty-letter web address away (and, unsurprisingly, are of better quality). The metro section is where the newspaper’s character lies: stories about immigration in Prince George’s County, crime in the area that affects people I know who live in those neighborhoods, farmers markets, reactions to the local storms of this week, and so forth. These are the things that matter to me in my everyday life – and I guarantee you that CNN is not running a think-piece on a spike in lead levels in some DC tap water.
This, I think, is to blame for the decline in print media over the past few years.
In their infinite wisdom, the men and women who run the gray ladies of this country had a decision to make about fifteen or twenty years ago that would significantly alter the future of newspapers in America. With digital and televised cable media becoming such a force, something had to be done. On the one hand, the choice could have been made to increase the focus on local events, thereby making the newspaper into an even more relevant piece of a person’s every day life. The other option was to attempt to make every newspaper into a carbon clone of the ones that are heartlessly pushed out daily by the Tribune Co. and every other massive conglomerate that doesn’t really care that you can’t read about, as long as they’re selling car ads.
So, guess which option prevailed?
From an essay in this month’s Esquire by David Simon (creator of The Wire and former reporter for the Baltimore Sun):
And I am still as clueless as the captains of the newspaper industry when it comes to the Internet, still mistaking the Web as advertising for the product when, in fact, it is the product. I don’t yet envision the steep declines in circulation, the indifference of young readers to newsprint, the departure of display advertising to department-store consolidation and classified space to Craigslist.
Admittedly, I can’t even grasp all of the true and subtle costs of impact journalism and prize hunger. I don’t yet see it as a zero-sum game in which a serious newspaper would cover less and less of its city — eliminating such fundamental responsibilities as a poverty beat, a labor beat, a courthouse beat in a city where rust-belt unemployment and crime devour whole neighborhoods — and favor instead a handful of special select projects designed to catch the admiring gaze of a prize committee.
Simon knows. This is why no one is actually reading newspapers anymore – there’s nothing in them, for the most part that truly resonates with them – only pieces that are bred to win Pulitzers and keep the newspaper in business as nothing more than a relic of the way things used to be. The newspaper is such a piece of American arcana that it will never truly die, only slowly mope into a state of meaninglessness and antiquity.
But I’ll still enjoy it with my coffee this morning, while it’s still got some legs. To section B, long live section B.
[photo by Chris Cantrell.]