The End of Western Civilization as We Know It?

March 23rd, 2009 by Bob Bly

For more than 4 decades, one of my favorite activities and greatest pleasures has been reading the newspaper.

Yet according to an article on cnn.com today, at least 120 U.S. newspapers have shut down since January 2008.

“Newspapers are losing their relevance in the lives of a majority of Americans,” cnn.com — an online news service — smugly proclaims.

My own kids get their info online and on TV. They don’t read the newspaper, even with daily deliver of a newspaper on our front lawn.

I read news every day online at cnn.com, the page on which my web browser is set to open — and I love it.

But I also love reading the newspaper at the lunch counter where I have my tuna sandwich each day … or at the kitchen table on weekend mornings over scrambled eggs and coffee.

This is a singular experience — peaceful, comforting, and entertaining — which seems to be lost on young people today.

I am wondering: if you are under 50, do you read news online only … and are newspapers not part of your information mix?

If you are 50 or older, like I am, do you still cling to your newspaper habit — or have you given it up for lent?

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This entry was posted on Monday, March 23rd, 2009 at 11:03 am and is filed under Writing and the Internet. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

23 responses about “The End of Western Civilization as We Know It?”

  1. Riel Langlois said:

    I have given up buying newspapers, for the most part. I think the problem with newspapers, ironically, is that you get too much bang for your buck.

    I don’t read the sports section, and there are other whole sections that I don’t even look at. So there’s a feeling of guilt in buying the newspaper: you’re basically throwing out a whole lotta paper that you didn’t even “use.”

    (I know that you can recycle newspaper–that’s not the point. To not use something you don’t need in the first place is a step above recycling.)

    My suggestion would be that newspapers adapt the customization option that is available on most news websites: you can filter out the types of news you don’t want. If someone selling newspaper subscriptions phoned and allowed me to pick and choose just the parts of the newspaper I would receive, I’d be more likely to subscribe.

  2. Ken said:

    I am under 50, and while I once enjoyed reading the newspaper I have to say that I read everything online now.
    Even the free newspaper left at our door each Sunday morning usually ends up in the recycling bin unread.

  3. Roger said:

    Even though there are only 2 replies to your question bob, it disturbs me that none of you have even touched on the main reason for the demise of the news paper. They simply don’t report the news anymore. And they seem proud of it; the main culprit being the New York Times. I don’t trust most of them. I am 55 and get most of my news from Fox and the Drudge Report.

    But, if someone happens to leave one behind somewhere I have to wait for something, I do take pleasure in flipping the pages.

  4. Bob Bly said:

    Roger: many would argue that TV news in general and Fox in particular are superficial, sensationalist, and biased. And that the NY Times is a respected, trustworthy, reporting-based news source … and by comparison, the Drudge Report is basically some nut in a Dick Tracy costume who can afford the $8 a year to maintain a domain name. :)

  5. Roger said:

    Bob, I disagree with your comments but what the hey, I still love your books. :-)

  6. Bob Bly said:

    Roger: if you compare newspapers with bloggers, blogging enthusiasts say that blogging gets the news out faster, without the annoyance of editorial filtering. On the flip side, blogging critics (not me) have noted that newspapers have the resources to actually research and report original news vs. most bloggers just comment and give their opinion on news, but do not do any significant reporting (there are of course many exceptions, one of which is Drudge and perhaps Huffington another).

  7. Ron said:

    Although over 50 (by a few months), my newspaper reading is mostly confined to Thursday, when the local weekly comes out, and to the local daily’s Sunday edition.

    My daily news comes from sources I (mostly) trust, primarily the AP, which I read online, and NPR.

    As a former reporter, I believe in editorial filtering, as long it’s by journalists who are interested in facts more than entertainment. Admittedly, it’s getting harder to tell who those journalists are.

  8. Scott Sanders said:

    I’m under 50, under 30… actually will be 30 this year and I get all of my news online or on my cell phone. I have a Blackberry and I have an app that breaks down the days news into sections and I read that everyday, along with a few sites on the internet.

    To me the paper has always been a little cumbersome, its just easier to read the news on my blackberry, although I do watch the local news before going to bed.

  9. Bob Bly said:

    Scott: I pride myself on being conversant in the latest technology trends, but I will never understand why people want to read news on a phone instead of on their laptop or in print.

  10. Scott Sanders said:

    I normally take the train into the office and its just easier than getting my laptop out because most of the time I stand, I just got use to it. It’s not that bad really, it has a big screen.

  11. Stephan F- said:

    I am under 50 and we let our newspaper subcription just run out.
    We have lost respect for the news in general, not just newspapers. They have stopped reporting the news years ago, it is just that we finally noticed it.
    They have been imposing their agenda for years and then last year they got to play kingmaker. And now the government has done the state-level equivalent of putting their Visa on their Mastercard with the Fed monetizing the debt. That has never ended well.
    I have been involved and close to news stories that were reported in a twisted fashion and lately I’ve been talking to others and they have the same thing to say, “They got the story a little/lot wrong.”
    I just stopped paying for something that was out of date and a pain to deal with. I’ll have to go out and buy a paper from time to time to have tinder for the BBQ but that is about all, that should last all summer.
    They called a few days ago asking us to come back, am when I told them that I didn’t think they reported the news anymore they came back and said they now have Democrat AND Republican commentators. I don’t care since they are both socialists now.
    At some point the watchdog media decided to become a lapdog, and now people are going to the Capitol with video cameras to try to find out the truth for themselves and are being stonewalled.
    I still read the news sites but I treat them as what they are tainted. I have to hit up the Canadian and British and other news sites from around the world to cross check them. But I’m tiring of having to be my own intelligence analysis for the * news about our own * country.

  12. S.P. Gass said:

    I’m under 50 and read the free newspapers that are delivered or that I can pick up. However, I do not currently subscribe to a newspaper. I check a news sites online most days, listen to the radio, and watch news on television.

    Today, however, I did enjoy reading a real newspaper as a waited for my turn at the barber shop.

  13. Tanisia Greer said:

    I’m 36 and I used to buy the paper. But increasingly, if I want to get my news I get it online. Too often, when I get the paper the headlines I read are 24 hours old.

    I also bought the paper for the classified ads. Craigslist has taken care of that section in spades. What used to be a thick section is now barely six pages.

    It used to be that I could justify buying the paper for its unique content that I couldn’t find online. Now, most articles are AP or Big Paper reprints, so it’s disappointing. (Election Day and Inauguration Day editions were notable exceptions, but those are special cases.)

    I don’t want to see newspapers disappear altogether. Not everyone is online, and if newspapers disappear, how will non-connected people get the information they need? I fear for the future of newspapers.

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  15. Dan said:

    I will be 30 this year, and I make a point to subscribe to multiple print newspapers. Anything local, my favorite major papers (NYT, Wash Post, Chicago Tribune, etc.), WSJ and a couple of other financial papers, and others.

    That may seem neurotic, but there’s just nothing like holding the paper in your hands while you read. Online doesn’t cut it (although I subscribe to the online version of several newspapers I receive in print), the Kindle and other ebook readers don’t.

    Newspapers aren’t in decline because of a disappearing readership. Newspapers are in decline because of a disappearing advertiser base. Classified ads have been gutted by Craigs list. They’re unlikely to recoupe that audience. And display advertisments have all but disappeared except for Fortune 500 types, and the direct-marketing-savvy.

    I view the latter as our fault as direct marketers. Or at least, if not our fault, it is within our ability to help. Most advertising that companies do just plain stinks. If they were to do it right, they would see a profitable return from more of promotions they ran.

    The bad habits in advertising stem from the ease with which money flowed in a bubble economy. Now that people are tightening up their spending, poor advertising goes back to getting poor results. It’s no longer good enough as a Realtor to stuff a bunch of listings in your once-a-week ad. The calls aren’t going to roll in anymore. Sorry.

    So I view it as part of my responsibility as a direct response marketer to encourage (by force, if necessary) as many businesses to advertise in the newspaper as possible. It’s as profitable as ever, if you do it right.

  16. Dan said:

    One more thing, then I’ll stop attacking your blog with gargantuan comments.

    Blogger do not hold a candle to the service provided to a community (or nation) by quality investigative journalism. “Mrs. Mommy Blogger” posting about Suzy Q’s recital does not have the same positive impact as “Johnny Journalist’s” hundreds of hours spent working through mountains of boring, obscure public records to uncover massive fraud committed by “Faceless Corporate Monolith” in conjunction with “Beloved City Government Official.”

    Period.

  17. Bob Bly said:

    Dan: I agree with your comments 100% especially #16 above. The TIME article on Huffington Post said her staff is equivalent to that of the local town newspaper, and minimal compared to a major daily. It also send Huffington Post is mainly content taken from real newspapers without payment or permission. If real newspapers and magazines disappeared tomorrow, many bloggers would lose their source material and have almost nothing original or interesting to say.

  18. Bob Bly said:

    I mean “said” not “send” … why doesn’t this blogging software allow corrections?

  19. Scott Sanders said:

    I take it you’re NOT using wordpress Bob?

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  21. Daniel C. said:

    I am well under 50, and I get most news online, but I do still like to have a tangible local paper to read on the commute. I like being able to scan the content of various articles at a glance, and to have a nice compact copy that’s easy to refer to. (Printing out each online article would use much more paper.) Print still has the advantages of compact layout and portability, especially if you don’t like carrying electronics around all the time.

    The problem with newspapers is they started giving away their online content for free, which was foolish. Now people expect it for free, so it’s too late to change business models. Internet news, of course, is entirely derivative of what’s gathered by real journalists, so the death of newspapers will hurt online journalism as well. However, I expect that television journalism will pick up the slack, since there is still a lot of money in televison, and networks can afford to support journalistic staff and resources.

  22. Ignacio Perez de Vargas said:

    Democracy, human rights, technological advancement, etc. will all die as the dark powers of the East takeover. What will you do when the West has finally fallen?

  23. jon delray said:

    Newspapers are in a world of hurt right now. Experiments like huffington post giving away free ipad access and wsj doing the opposite will be interesting. Some revenue model will need to be found that works or they will cease to exist.

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