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Newspapers: More American than Apple Pie

March 10, 2009

“Extra! Extra!  Read all about it!”

It’s a phrase that immediately conjures up in my mind a picture of a little boy, maybe 11 or 12 years old…circa late 1800s or early 1900s…standing on the street corner, trying to earn a penny.

That scene is long gone and remembered only with pictures and words in the history books. But I wonder if (and probably more accurately, how soon) a similar fate lies in wait for that Norman Rockwell picture-perfect moment many of us experience each morning as we read the paper with a cup of coffee.

Is the era of the newspaper disappearing completely?  It certainly seems so. Just this morning, I read of McClatchy’s plans to cut yet another 1600 jobs at wonderful papers such as (among others) The Idaho Statesman, Sacramento Bee and Kansas City Star. I have emotional ties to all three of these.

No doubt you’ve seen the countless stories as well.   Here are a few a quick Google search pulled up for me:  San Francisco Chronicle, Rocky Mountain News (watch the video documentary), multiple Philadephia area newspapersBellingham Herald,  Sacramento Bee… and the list goes on and on and on.

Maybe you don’t subscribe to a paper – or even read the one laying on the table at the coffee shop.  Maybe you’re thinking “I really don’t care.”  But you should. Did you know newspapering is more American than apple pie?

The first American newspaper appeared more than 300 years ago in Boston – in 1690.    It is a “patriotic” profession, and lest you want to argue that point with me consider this…it is protected by Article One of our constitution:   “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech or of the press…” Not Article 2, 3 or 4…Article ONE!

Newspapers were considered so important to our country’s founding fathers, that in 1787 Thomas Jefferson went as far to say: “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

Now, granted, they didn’t have television, radio or the Internet back then, but I suspect our founding fathers would have felt the same about those methods of communicating.  Regardless, the fact remains, newspapering, has a critically important place in the history of our country. 

Ironically, we are consuming more news than every before.  Yet, we seem to think we are entitled to freely receive it. But what happens when every newspaper in our country, like soldiers in a losing battle, falls?  One…by…one. 

And after them, what happens to our local television news stations, who are also struggling to make ends meet?  Where does the content come from for your beloved GoogleNews?  Who will keep a watch dog perspective on our public servants?  Who will hold our country accountable?

Citizen Journalists?  Perhaps, but we also run a serious risk of listening only to certain channels of information that align with our personal view points – leaving us in a dangerously precarious – and devisive position. 

We are losing countless talented and award-winning journalists at an an alarming rate.  One journalist friend of mine recently commented “I don’t know what I’ll do when I lose my job.”  It wasn’t IF – but WHEN.  There are no other newspaper jobs to take – because the are all disappearing.  One…by…one.  Sure, you can write a blog…but who will pay you for the content?

I don’t have the answer, but it’s clear that news agencies – if they hope to survive- will have to become more creative than ever before as their entire infrastructure shifts…ONLINE.  As my good friend and colleague Jeri Cartwright in Salt Lake City recently observed, they will have to become a newspaper, radio station, blog, podcaster and more.  And they’ll have to figure out how to do all this while containing costs and making money….somehow.  I just hope the rest of us will be bright enough to support their efforts as they figure it out because the cost to all of us is far too great.


3 Comments leave one →
  1. idawebco permalink
    March 10, 2009 7:25 pm

    Nothing to debate here. Good post. I personally think they will figure it out, but with the economy the way it is and the way it looks like it will be for a good while to come, it is harder to be optomistic – small business really suffers when a newspaper closes the doors.

  2. March 11, 2009 1:31 am

    Hi this is a really useful blog. I’ll be back soon to read some more.

  3. Brooke Flake permalink
    March 13, 2009 2:26 am

    I just heard yesterday that Idaho Falls’ Newspaper, The Post Register is cutting out their Monday paper. I thought that was pretty interesting. I think they’re still covering news Monday and updating their website, but just not printing the Monday paper. Hm.

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