October 7, 2017
My degrees are in English, but my academic focus was “creative writing and journalism.” After grad school, I got a job in advertising and quickly found that I was not writing “copy” but something called “content.” I disliked that term because writing copy takes skill. It is a craft. But in an age where anyone can publish via a computer and the Internet, "content" is common as dirt.
The best line I’ve heard about this topic was spoken sardonically by Holly Hunter in “Living Out Loud,” a 1998 film, when she asked, “What is someone supposed to do with all this information?”
Yes. How do we sort and prioritize all the journalistic content we are exposed to. And how can we know which content is true and good?
What Should We Believe?
These days, everyone has their favorite TV news programs, likely because we agree with the presenters’ views or think they are charming or handsome. At the same time, there’s an ongoing battle for the soul of journalism, with major outlets reporting the truth as they've seen or heard it, while major leaders call it FAKE and truly FAKE journalism is touted as REAL.
Who are we to believe? I think I know, but far too many citizens dismiss traditional media, particularly local daily newspapers, consuming news and information from many varied sources. Yet I still read a printed daily newspaper, which in my town is the Austin American-Statesman. Although it’s much thinner than days of yore, and home delivery costs a lot more (like 10 times more), I still subscribe.
I receive both the print and digital editions, but prefer to sit with my masala chai and leaf through the print version. Maybe I’m just old, but when a newspaper is delivered electronically, it becomes that word I love to hate: content, a mass of text, art, photos, videos, comments, likes and shares.
The print version is an experience. I turn the pages. I see information, stories, ads and perspectives that I probably would pass over in the electronic edition. But something – a photo or headline – captures my attention and compels me to consider stories or ads I might otherwise miss. Today there was a story about star turtles in Africa and their amazing comeback from near-extinction. I love stories about survival, so my eyes glued to that one when I turned the page.
I Don't Read Every Article but Still...
Editorially, the Statesman has chosen to focus on local and state news, deciding that network and cable outlets will tell us the national and global stories. At my age, I am not interested in a local school board kerfuffle, but at least concerned parents are being informed. Although I may not get excited about the Austin City Limits Music Festival, at least I know better than to go downtown for dinner that weekend because I’ll never get home alive.
However, my local daily does let me know that a new express toll lane is open on a major freeway. I cannot wait to try it out. I also get to know which new restaurants have opened where, and also where I might enjoy a book festival at the Capitol. In short, newspapers deliver my town’s story each day.
Ignorance is Not a Status Symbol
I have a wealthy “friend” who arrogantly told me that she doesn’t take the daily newspaper here because (add an arrogant harrumph here) “it’s too liberal.”
When I replied, “But how do you know what’s going on in Austin?” she merely shrugged as if she didn’t much care.
As a result, this woman has no idea which restaurants to suggest, which fashion shops might please her very expensive tastes, or which volunteer organizations she might join to meet new people. Instead, she watches FOX News as her sole news resource and gets her gossip from the local community gadflies. I call her "misinformed."
What's Going On?
Maybe I’m odd, but I want to know what’s going on in my town. That's why I read my daily. There is so much more coverage in newspaper articles than the simple blurbs that hunky Lester Holt (NBC) utters to cover a story.
Newspaper in hand, I see the top stories “above the fold,” and I know that is not accidental placement. When a story is buried deep inside a paper, that placement says more than the text alone. As an example, I use today’s treatment of Donald Trump’s “calm before the storm” hint that something big is about to happen militarily. It might, or might not, but the Statesman editors buried it, as much saying that our president too-frequently does not measure the very serious impact of his words.
News for Lots of People
Beyond me and my masala chai, newspapers make information accessible to a varied audience. It is easy to forget that not everyone has a smart phone, pad, computer or Internet access. For those who don’t, print newspapers provide the windows to the world. I often go to my community library to write, and when I do, I see patrons throughout reading the printed local daily. With today’s prices, they likely cannot afford it at home.
I hope the print version never goes away. I won’t always agree with my local daily’s editorial decisions, especially their propensity for reporting on local citizens who somehow, even in a very minor way, were involved in a national or global event. But I will always appreciate that dedicated journalists applied thought and enthusiasm to the creation of a publication that gives me an experience I cannot find online.
The Story of My Town
I like turning the pages and seeing the story of my town unfold. I like keeping abreast of local criminal cases, along with state and local politics. I even enjoy reading Dear Abby.
So, keep throwing the daily in my driveway. And I hope my Goodreads followers will at least consider subscribing to a local paper if you have not already. We need newspapers to keep an eye on our towns, states and nation. That’s why the Bill of Rights included freedom of the press in the first place.
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