Remember the old joke “What’s black and white and read all over?” Well, starting this Fall I reckon the answer will be “The newspaper – but only if it’s Wednesday, Friday or Sunday.”
Sort of falls flat, doesn’t it? In more ways than one.
Last week, the New Orleans Times-Picayune, followed closely by The Huntsville Times, The Birmingham News, and Mobile’s Press-Register, the daily of my youth, all owned by Advance Publications, announced that they would be cutting publication days, as well as employees, in response to an increasingly digital age and rapid advances in how readers engage with news content.
This whole turn of events marks the end of an era – an era where engaging with your news content only meant you had to wash the print off your hands.
I come from some newspaper reading people. People engaging every day, over coffee, from the front page to the classifieds, from the obituaries to the funnies. Every smudgy gray word absorbed, analyzed, and stashed away in the mental cache for later discussion.
Sometimes scissors were involved in the engagement.
The birth of a baby, awards, community events published for all of the world, or at least greater Mobile County, to read about. Articles were cut out, pasted in albums, stashed in the Bible, mailed to loved ones. Fifteen seconds of fame, folded, yellowed.
Somehow a “bookmarked” article or a computer printout isn’t quite the same as leafing through album after album after album of articles Granny carefully cut out and pasted down. Dates penned in, passages underlined, little asides carefully printed in tiny margins. That’s real content engagement, my friends.
And for the last 298 years, since the Boston News-Letter was first published (and for a damn sight longer in Europe), folks have been engaging with print news. Daily, weekly, regionally. Comparatively new, digital media has taken off in the last few years leaving my beloved print in it’s proverbial dust, overwhelming news lovers with content more than engaging. Headlines scrolling ever scrolling. Inundating with video and flash. (There is really no reason in the world I should have watched 15 minutes of surveillance video of a dead, doped-up cannibal and the writhing legs of the homeless man whose face he gnawed off on Time.com. None. Zero. But I did. Because I could.)
I know in my heart of hearts that we can’t slam the brakes on technology, progress, change…but sometimes I wish I could. And I don’t think I’m alone. I’m not the only one out here with eyes red and bleary from staring at a computer screen all day and into the night. I’m not the only one with treasured clippings. And I’m not the only one who would rather wash the newsprint from my hands than erase print media from existence.
p.s. And if any of you are wondering if I see the irony in writing about the demise of print media in a digital blog. Why, yes. Yes I do.