by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
June 15, 2009
SUCKING UP THE JUICE
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Now that newspapers are crumbling, many people are professing a smug kind of gladness. Newspapers are "unsustainable." They're the "dead tree" model. They're old-fashioned. Hip hip hooray for the Internet! Only old folks read newspapers anyway, and who cares what they think? Information wants to be free.
You've probably heard - or said - some of these things yourself.
The most frequent comment always refers to the buggy whip. Technology moved on to the automobile, the horse-drawn cart became an anachronism, and the buggy whip, once an essential tool of the transportation industry, moved on to being an S&M accouterment or disappeared entirely. So it will happen to newspapers, too.
It's not an accurate analogy.
I came to this realization slowly. The diminished Boston Globe, which is in the process of being destroyed - and sold - by its owner, The New York Times (also in the process of being destroyed), recently raised its newsstand price.
This has been the inexplicable reaction of many newspaper owners in tough times - they drive their experienced (read: expensive) columnists, reporters and editors away, give their customers a demeaned product, charge more and more and then scratch their heads and call foul on Craigslist and Google.
Anyway, my husband has been a passionate reader of The Globe since he was young and The Globe was a great newspaper. But when the paper doubled its price he stopped buying it. Suddenly the house was a lot neater, but then I needed to start a fire in the wood stove and got a cold feeling in my gut.
What we would do without newspapers? It brought to mind something a farmer said to me when I first became a reporter. He told me he didn't think much of the paper I was writing for, but he did buy it, shredded, to use as bedding for his cows. "You can say one thing for the Reformer," he said. "It sucks up the juice."
To me, that has always seemed like a reasonable assessment.
We take newspapers for granted; they're an integral part of our daily lives:
Take that, buggy whip!
Thanks to cell phones, radio, television, blogs and Twitter, you'll probably always know when there's been a local fire or an accident on the Interstate. You might be able to create "The Daily Me" by having stories about your interests sent to you by Google - or any one of a number of aggregator sites. Or you'll read aggregator blogs. But you'll miss all the stories you never dreamed you'd want to read because they fall outside the narrow confines of your self-defined interests.
As much as I love the Internet, I still love newspapers, too.
"We're convinced that the best way to ensure the future of journalism is to create a workable model where journalists are paid well for reporting here and abroad," writer Dave Eggers said recently.
"And that starts with paying for the physical paper. And paying for the physical paper begins with creating a physical object that doesn't retreat, but instead luxuriates in the beauties of print. We believe that if you use the hell out of the medium, if you give investigative journalism space, if you give photojournalists space, if you give graphic artists and cartoonists space - if you really truly give readers an experience that can't be duplicated on the web - then they will spend $1 for a copy. And that $1 per copy, plus the revenue from some (but not all that many) ads, will keep the enterprise afloat."
Joyce Marcel is a freelance journalist in southern Vermont who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.