Monday, January 30, 2012

Off With Their Head(lines) Revisited

Newspapers are dying. We have, for better or for worse, decided that McNews is better, more digestible and easier on the soul in the form of Fox broadcasts, USA Today, or blogs and websites. The impending demise of the daily could also stem from readers becoming tired of bad news and papers failing to realize there is--even among the we-are-doomed junkies--a failsafe point. We can only tolerate so much war, so much financial and intellectual decline, so many stories depicting the frailness of the human condition. We are burned out on sadness, meaningless crime, governmental stupidity or insensitivity. We're sick of it and we're not gonna pay for it anymore. And neither, it seems, are the advertisers. Even without looking at statistics, anyone who’s been reading newspaper for a decade or more can see the handwriting on the wall is fading.  The want-ads section is down to a few pages, mostly legal notices with here and there ads for junker cars, stray pets and one-room rentals in crappy neighborhoods.
And yet... I worked for the Washington Post for years. I'm a print guy. I like getting up in the morning, rain or shine, and reaching for my paper deep under the azalea bush where the delivery guy unerringly tosses it. I no longer read the business section--why get depressed when you don't have to--and wonder where a lot of Post reporters got their training. I decry the loss of objectivity. I regret to dependence on spell-check programs and the loss of copy editors. I wonder when newspaper owners decided readers wanted a reporter's opinions more than they want facts. I mourn the passing of such elegant writers as Sarah Booth Conroy, Paul Hume and Jonathan Yardley; the end of the book review section; the melding of social and art pages into an incomprehensible miasma of critique, bad writing, and far too much space devoted to the atonal music of the latest Japanese Lesbian rock band.
I will miss the shorts buried in the A section--the French and British nuclear submarines bristling with enough fissionable material to destroy the earth three times over. They collided in the English Channel (how can such a thing happen? And what does that tell us about the end of the world?). I will miss the gossip section telling me all about people I neither do--nor want to--know. I like the daily crossword puzzles that will never, ever, be as friendly on a computer screen, and I lament the fact that current puzzles are truly written for dolts whose literacy is limited to two-syllable words. I enjoy the corrections, those little boxes buried beneath the fold on page three that say, "Oops, we blew it." I particularly like them when they recognize that the photo in yesterday's late edition was not Mrs. Crosley Boyd-Smith but Mr. Crosley Boyd-Smith who always wears a kilt. And the editors regret the error. I miss Dick Tracy, Broomhilda, Steve Roper, Mary Worth, Dear Abby and her twin sister whose advice columns influenced a generation of brides and took to task a nation of mothers-in-law.
And I wonder, when the newspapers are truly gone, what will we use to start kindling fires,  line our parakeet cages or wrap fish?

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