Newspapers: still a powerful force
By Jean Godden
When I was 12 years old, I got my first newspaper job. I was a "paperboy," delivering the Lebanon, Missouri, Daily News on weekday afternoons and the St. Louis Post Dispatch on Sunday mornings. I used my brother's red wagon -- a Radio Flyer -- to cart the ad-heavy Sunday papers.
I had inherited the paperboy route from a seventh-grade classmate, Thelma Jorgenson. Her dad -- like mine -- was an army officer, stationed at nearby Fort Leonard Wood. Because her dad's battalion was headed overseas, she and her family were moving home to North Carolina. Thelma wanted me to carry on, delivering papers daily and collecting a couple of dollars bi-weekly. The job paid but not well. Some army families would leave suddenly, still owing for the paper.
My six months as a paperboy was my first but hardly my last news job. It was enough to get me hooked for life on ink and newsprint. And it is one of the reasons that I had another gut punch when I read recent news about the Seattle Weekly.
After 40 years, the last print edition of the Seattle Weekly was delivered to newspaper boxes on Feb. 27. It is true the Seattle Weekly will continue on line. But, with the last three reporters laid off, there is only the promise that free-lancers will somehow fill the local news void.
The Weekly demise, our most recent loss, reminds us that it is almost exactly 10 years since that tragic day in March (the 17th) when the Seattle Post-Intelligencer ceased print publication and converted into a digital publication produced by a vestige of its former staff.
It is no secret that newspapers -- the kind that you can actually hold in your hands -- are on the decline. They have been downsizing, merging and dying for several decades. In the decade since 2008, more than 166 U. S. newspapers closed down. On top of that, there were also staff buy-outs and layoffs at those papers that manage to hang on.
Things have changed. Prior to 2000, newspapers were not just important to people, they were part of the culture. People bought them, read them and discussed them. Papers were all around us, seen in every cafe and coffee shop. Papers were read aboard city buses and arrived on city doorsteps, some in the morning and some in the afternoon.
Since 2000, the decline has been relentless. Yet, despite closures, newsprint remains oddly resilient. National presses -- led by leaders like the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal -- set the agenda. Daily papers in other big cities -- Seattle, Los Angeles, Boston and Minneapolis -- remain a potent force. So do community publications that cover local news.
Politicians still care about the print media; broadcasters allow newspapers to define what matters; the PR industry courts the paper press. Public conversation still revolves around the latest front-page story, the most recent editorial or fiery opinion piece.
Many of us subscribe to print newspapers. We're the ones who love the feel, the texture and the portability of print newspapers. And, despite worries over presses falling silent, we savor newspapers even though they exist alongside blogs and aggregators.
The crux of concern really is about our need for professional journalists who will gather, write and tell the truth (on newsprint, on line or on the air). What continues to confound is the question of how to find the money to fund journalism. What we see today is a patchwork of solutions, not unlike our public radio stations with fundraising drives or newspapers that solicit corporate sponsors. These are ways to help pay the price for news gathering.
We who care about truth can do no better than subscribe and support news and news writers. This is the best response to those who disparage truth and dare call it "fake news." It is our hope for the future and a reminder that freedom of conscience, speech and assembly are the pillars of our democracy.
Forgive these lofty thoughts; but they come from someone schooled in the news ever since rising at 5 a.m. to deliver Sunday papers from a brother's Radio Flyer.
Just don't forget to pay your bill.