Newspapers remain valuable despite industry trends

By Mike Shearer May 15, 2012 03:11 pm

I have decided to take full responsibility for The Observer’s going to three days a week.

The publisher wrote a front-page piece putting the best possible light on the change, and she specifically asked for public input, so I’ll assume that would include mine since I am only a correspondent and pay for a subscription. I can’t say that I think the change is a “good thing,” in Martha Stewart terminology.

I grew up on newspapers and never even felt good about the two I had worked for that only appeared six, rather than seven, days a week. As a reader, I like daily newspapers. When I moved here, I admit five issues a week seemed too few to me.

However, I know there are substantial reasons why the change is coming.

Years ago when I worked at the Albuquerque Tribune, we reporters used to complain about the only window in our second floor newsroom. The window was a long, horizontal one you couldn’t see anything through (except the sky itself) unless you stood on a chair, which Urith Lucas used to do before writing her weather story every day.

We complained bitterly about that window until one day construction workers arrived and bricked the whole thing up. They were resurfacing the outside of the building and the swell new sign they were installing on the façade of the building needed to be right where our only window had been. We then missed the window we had complained about.

I guess I am ashamed to admit my point is that we’re lucky to have any newspaper at all. Now I have never had any use for the line that goes, “I cried because I had no shoes, and then I met a man who had no feet.”

But the fact is 151 newspaper ceased operations in 2010 and another 152 went under in 2011. Since 2007, we lost the South Idaho Press, Cincinnati Post, Oakland Tribune, Honolulu Advertiser, Baltimore Examiner, Rocky Mountain News, Kentucky Post, Tucson Citizen, and — among many others — the Albuquerque Tribune. Some of these “merged” or went on-line and probably would rather not have it said they went under.

Those of you who like reading old-fashioned newspapers on newsprint, as some of you have told me you do, should not look at newspaperdeathwatch.com unless you truly want to be depressed because it says newspapers are the fastest-shrinking U.S. industry. And those that are continuing to make a go of it are doing so by wooing customers to their on-line site offerings.

And I, for one, am not confident that journalism’s watchdog role can be trusted to the blabbering news anchors of television or to the anything-goes internet.

I said at the outset of this column that this change may be entirely my fault. You see, I have had a long-term reverse King Midas effect on things. I should have warned Ted Kramer, the former editor, when I whined my way into being assigned a part-time beat in January of last year and warned Glenn Rabinowitz, the current editor, about it when I whined my way into writing a column this recent January.

My hometown of Bigelow, Kan., was wiped off the map by the Army Corps of Engineers, which said it was too close to Tuttle Creek, which they then proceeded to dam and make into an enormous lake. They even dug up the cemetery in Bigelow. Life Magazine did a feature on it. Now there is just a rock monument where the town used to be.

I’m not saying it happened just because I lived there. Nor do I think they tore down my junior high in Topeka just because I had attended it. Nor have four (four!) Albuquerque banks failed right after I opened accounts at them. Nor did The University of Albuquerque go under during my second year of teaching there. And Century Magazine surely dissipated for reasons other than my regular contributions.

My curse brings to mind the Fortune Magazine list of worst quotes gleaned from resumes that included this failed attempt to brag: “Wholly responsible for two (2) failed financial institutions.”

When I decided to enter the modern age and get a word processor, I selected the Magnavox Videowriter after careful research — just before it was scrapped and became obsolete because its floppy discs and other parts weren’t interchangeable with any other devices.

But then I also had one set of tires that lasted through three different cars.

Perhaps those were just great tires, but I fear I had a not-so-positive effect on the cars.

Still, I try not to be superstitious. But I would understand if I were asked to leave town.

Seven days a week is ideal for a newspaper, six okay, five slightly disappointing, three what we will have now, but we still have a newspaper. We may be barefoot, but we still have our proverbial feet.

 

Mike Shearer can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it