Thursday, February 09, 2012

Goodbye, My Friend

“Enjoy it while you can, because the Gazette, at least in the form you are holding, is doomed.  The end may be a few years off, but it is inevitable.”

I wrote those lines, the opening words in an opinion piece published by the Kalamazoo Gazette, in the summer of 2009.  Reading a daily newspaper has been part of my life for more than 60 years. Monday, my newspaper delivery tube was empty.  Gazette management had taken the first big step toward the demise of the newspaper.  It no longer will be delivered to homes seven days a week, as it has been for decades.

Like a tough, old bird diagnosed with terminal cancer, the Gazette is not dying without a struggle.  A top exec of the corporation, which also owns seven other papers in Michigan, has issued numerous glowing statements assuring subscribers that the “new order” of things is vastly superior to the familiar system that put a copy of the newspaper into my hands every day.

We now can have only Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday editions delivered to our homes—at a higher cost than we were paying to receive seven days of deliveries.  To compensate for the cost increase, we can view the Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday editions on the Internet.  Those “papers,” however, do not include special advertising sections.  You can buy daily papers that include the special sections at selected sales outlets. Why anyone would want to do that is mysterious.

Content changes have been made to lure subscribers into being happy about this bewildering new arrangement.  The comics section has been increased. Whoopee!  All editions have expanded in this area by about a third.  I’m a selective comics fan—I love some and ignore others.  All the new ones fall into my “ignore” category.  No longer to be found are those favorites of fully mature adults—Rex Morgan, MD and Mary Worth.  What is a Geezer to do? Fortunately, Prince Valiant has been retained in the Sunday edition, but this provides little solace.

The comics changes were made by management after they apparently ignored a fairly recent survey of readers.  The majority wanted to keep panels such as Rex and Mary.  The majority didn’t want those crappy extra panels now foisted upon us.  Is the new stuff cheaper?

Subscribers now get several pages of business news from the Wall Street Journal (I like). They also get more local sports news (I’m not interested).  They get a very strange opinion page (who cares?).  They can get, on the Internet, an improved “Mlive” that is supposed to cover regional news much better (Well, it’s a tad better, but still inadequate).

I’m a fan of Internet news.  As one, I’ve thoroughly checked out the web editions of the Gazette.  Readers can navigate around in them fairly easily, but they are harder to read than the familiar paper versions, and doing the crossword is well neigh impossible.  I also get a new “instant news” bulletin in my e-mailbox.  I’m trying to be charitable, but is seems to be closer to worthless than worthwhile.

All this strays from the bottom line.  Following a nationwide trend, the Gazette is disestablishing itself through a reversal of how it, and many daily papers, evolved.  The Gazette was established in 1834 as a weekly paper.  Weekly papers in growing markets most often took a first step upward by publishing two days a week (usually Tuesday and Thursday).  Later they went to Monday through Saturday editions.  Finally, they added Sunday to become full-service newspapers.

The only change in the backward spirals appears to be a retreat to a Sunday edition, with no weekday products.  Thus, major “paper papers” once again are becoming weeklies in many places.  The once-proud daily Christian Science Monitor devolved into a weekly months ago. Eventually, it and others traveling in the same direction will join the Gazette in extinction.

Who cares?  Well, all of us should.  The national and international news we get on television and the internet largely is generated by newspaper reporters.  Locally, except for a very few radio and television reports, all the news initially is reported by newspaper people. 

Democratic governments depend on the free-flow of information, and responsible analysis of what it means.  Dictatorships thrive by strangling the press. To me, the demise of “paper papers” is a serious matter.  My 2009 article summed it up this way:

“When newspapers are gone, who will cover the local school board meeting?  Who will cut through secrecy and give us the facts when a city council action smells funny?  Who will expose incompetence or extravagance in government? Who will write thoughtful analyses of the meaning of events?  Who will document the little things—the births, deaths, anniversaries, and business happenings—that collectively become the history of our Nation?

We don’t know, and that is frightening.”


schmidleysscribblins, said...

I worried about the newspapers until I realized most of the news could be found on the Internet or via Kindle. I have suspended a few of my subscriptions until I finish this degree, because current events are often more interesting than the past ever was. We have a couple of little newspapers that give us the local news, which in our area covers a lot. Dianne

Kay said...

My husband loves to sit at the kitchen table for a couple of hours each morning reading the paper from cover to cover. Hawaii's two major newspapers Honolulu Advertiser and Star Bulletin were consolidated into the Star Advertiser that we have today.

My son's partner was an investigative reporter in Espanola, NM. She loved it! However, she anticipated her kind of job becoming scarce so she's changing her profession and will be studying foreign relations now.

The world is changing.

JHawk23 said...

One of the unfortunate things about the ongoing shift from "paper papers" to online news is that the latter simply makes it easier for readers to self-select the news and views they agree with. And that, I think it's generally agreed, is one of the reasons we have increasing flight to the extremes of political and social opinion, and why there is no "middle" anymore.

JHawk23 said...

Incidentally, your Gazette's efforts to add stuff you don't really want, while increasing the price, reminds me we went through exactly the same thing with our local monopoly cable service a few years ago - the price kept going up every six months to a year, and they'd list a handful of worthless new channels they had added as evidence of the "value" we were getting. In this case, at least, we were able to flee to a comnpeting service (once our county opted for competition in cable.)

Anonymous said...

Well done article.

I miss Rex and Mary.


Richard Brewer said...

Good analysis.

The comments were good too. Especially apt was the one analogizing the Gazette's approach to the comics with the cable company's adding channels nobody wanted.

I tried to check out the ereplica (probably related to erysipselas), but getting an account set up was standard web account procedure, i.e., too complicated to bother with.

For a long time, we've subscribed by the year, but when our current print subscription expires (no good anyway since it didn't just automatically provide the erysipelas subscription), I expect we'll let it lapse.

joared said...

I lament the loss of newspapers since I've periodically experienced some problems reading digital screens -- hard on eyes -- and am likely not the only person who has had that experience.

Also, carrying a newspaper into the "throne room" is much more convenient than lugging a digital device I think.

Most importantly, I think local news in many communities will not be gathered, or as accessible in too many households.

We still have our biweekly city paper that also has a website. A local area newspaper covering a much larger geographic area has managed to survive but is much smaller.

Our L.A. Times continues to thrive though the news long ago suffered when the Chicago owner took over and weakened the staff.

I really value our all news L.A. radio station (used to have two) and other non-computer device sources.