Vol. 12, No. 2,856W - The American Reporter - March 18, 2006

by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
Dummerston, Vt.

DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- I love newspapers.

And no, my head isn't buried in the sand. After 11 years as ajourn= alist, I know the serious problems that newspapers have.

My short list would include:

  • Shrinking circulation.
  • Shrinking ad revenues.
  • Rising costs. Low salaries.
  • Staff hiring freezes and/or cutbacks.
  • The attempt o= f many papers to circumvent U.S. copyright laws and take additional rights = from their freelance writers without paying for them.
  • Financial hemorrh= aging to keep a presence on the Web.
  • Buy-ups and agglomerations that le= ad to newspapers being owned and run by bottom-line fools rather than peopl= e with ink in their bloodstream.
  • Lack of competition, including too muc= h reliance on Associated Press wire copy.
  • Fear of taking chances.
  • L= ack of enterprise in reporting.
  • Reliance on soft news in an attempt to = compete with lame local television newscasts.
  • Self-censorship so as not= to incur lawsuits or displease corporate masters.
  • Accepting rather tha= n challenging the status quo.

But I still love them all, big and small, short (tabloid) and tall(= broadsheet).

Newspapers give me adventures in daily serendipity, and serendipity= -- "the gift of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for" (accor= ding to Merriam-Webster) -- is one of my favorite things.

When I open a newspaper, I never know what I'll find.

Sure, I pretty much know which national news stories will be on the= front page. Either I've heard them the night before on National Public Rad= io, or on the 7 p.m. television news, or from the late night television com= edians who have turned into our most honest reporters. Or I'll read them o= n Netscape or Yahoo when I check my morning email.

It's too easy to attack newspapers. They've been around forever,w= e take them for granted, and they're sitting ducks when we need to target o= ur scorn.

In that, they're like the U.S. Post Office. People scream when the= price of a stamp goes up a penny, but the post office is a national treasu= re. I live on top of a mountain in Vermont, and take it from me, no matter= how bad the snow is in winter or the mud in Spring, I can send mail anywhe= re in the world and get mail from anywhere in the world every single day.

We don't need newspapers for breaking news any more, but that doesn= 't mean they're unnecessary. They're a cheap daily feast of stories, a win= dow on the world of the human condition, and a great source of entertainmen= t and instruction.

Take the day I'm writing this, January 10, 2001.

Every paper had the same big news: Linda Chavez withdrew her name = from consideration for labor secretary, huge airline mergers were being pro= posed, protests would occur in Washington at George W. Bush's inauguration.

But that is not where the adventure comes. Where else but in a new= spaper would I learn that Brooke Shields, during an interview to become an = anti-smoking spokesperson, said: "Smoking kills. If you're killed, you've l= ost a very important part of your life." I read that in Cindy Adams' Ne= w York Post column (www.nypost.com).

Here's another great quote from that column: Mariah Carey said, "W= henever I see those poor starving kids all over the world, I cry. I'd love= to be skinny like that, but not with all those flies and death and stuff."

On the same day, in The New York Times, there was an analysi= s of the probable winners and losers in the airline mergers. There was als= o the obituary of James Carr, a great Memphis soul singer who lived the blu= es life -- marijuana, women, cigarettes, booze and music -- and, sadly, die= d early at the age of 58.

At the Boston Globe (Boston.com), it was interesting to lear= n that 71 people died in fires in Massachusetts in 2000, and that a New Bed= ford police officer, bitten by a rabid otter at a city housing complex, was= going to be fine.

This very paper, the American Reporter, offered original reporting = by Mark Perew on the discovery of two new planets. Many papers covered the= story, but only Perew described their co-joined orbits as "some very unusu= al sleeping arrangements."

My small local paper, the Brattleboro Reformer, published a = list of committee assignments for Vermont's House of Representatives. = You might think that's dull, but in the recent election, there was a hu= ge struggle here between the forces of the left and center, who voted to gi= ve civil rights to homosexual couples, and the forces of the right, who wer= e red-faced furious about it.

As a result, the GOP took over the House for the first time in many= years. The speaker of the House makes the committee assignments, and ever= yone wanted to see what the new guy would do. One thing he did was banish = the old speaker to the transportation committee.

On the opinion page, there was an editorial calling for a national = drug policy built around education and treatment, while a progressiv ecolum= nist who is also a registered nurse mused about the sad possibility that wi= th Republicans running the House, there might be limits on the availability= of health insurance for seniors and sick people. He called his musings "s= piritual dyspepsia."

I also learned that the public school in my little town of Dummerst= on is requesting a 9.68 percent budget increase. That lets me know that th= e property tax is going to go up, and that I, for one, will have a hard ti= me paying it.

Reading all this took me less than an hour, and I passed over far m= ore stories than I read.

I love reading newspapers. Even with all those flies and death an= d stuff.

Joyce Marcel is a freelance journalist who writes about cultu= re,politics, economics and travel.

Copyright 2006 Joe Shea The American Reporter. All Rights Reserved.

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