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Who Will Buy?

paying for the news

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, June 13, 2007.

There’s a mild low pressure in a Petri dish here in Boulder. Readers of our local paper, the Daily Camera, have taken exception to what they see as a slow deception by the paper of dropping sections from home delivery, and, in short, becoming an AP printout with local and national ads and a letters section to fluff the vain, by which is meant: those who are given to write letters to the editor. Cough. Those sorts. Like, oh, me.

Oh, and sports. Gotta have sports. They are apparently trying to phase out what is called the Insight section of editorial and columns, probably because of issues with ads running next to opinion perhaps not held by the buyers. Or who knows?

It’s long been a problem with comics. Comics are pretty weak, these days, but they are not helped by being blown down to the size of a microdot to more efficiently fit on the page.

The problem is not, as so many here in literate Boulder apparently choose to think, that advertising and subscriptions fell because of this service or that falling through. It’s not that locally important events and issues aren’t covered much anymore either, and while it’s true that City Council and liquor board hearings are good theater, and that county government is interesting from about every viewpoint, the subscription numbers and rates won’t increase enough to offset the cost, and this because of demographics, pure and simple.

Hardly any young people, here in excessively literate Boulder or on the planet, read any papers whatsoever at all. Or read much of anything. Changing the news coverage or pandering to them won’t make any long term difference, and maybe not short term either. They get their news from the internet or Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert. Frankly, they get a more accurate take than they would from FoxNews or the other, much better, networks, but the logical trail disappearing into the future’s mist isn’t promising. Technology's ease may be playing a role in aiding if not institutionalizing illiteracy and the dispensation of misinformation as fact.

Newspapers, and all print media for news, are toast. They’re not the fastest, nor are they any longer the most informed ruminations on events. And those who ruminate will simply transfer to the electronic media in toto when their print employers dry up. Worse, they’re an environmental disaster.

There will be stopgaps. I’m not sure when it will come – sooner than later – but newspapers and all sources may offer, by subscription or cash at a dispenser, quick printouts in color of their paper form. This would be for the die hards or the old folks, but it would make all the sense in the world and cost virtually nada. Many of today’s young, healthy, upstanding trees would be appreciative.

I wouldn’t like it, but I’m old. I enjoy nothing more than reading the paper with coffee and talking about it, preferably with someone else, but that too is a problem of age. When we get to where we enjoy talking with each other, we can’t hear each other. Not that this slows down the uttered remarks.

How we are to get generally accurate and mostly honest news in the future, and how it will be paid for, is a big decision that’s especially important in this nation, where the state can play no role in journalism without being in violation of the First Amendment. That’s why, technically, there is no profession called journalism here, despite the social climbing journalists of stage and screen. A profession is sanctioned by government. Approved. Not here. We’ve always outsourced it, and by and large it has worked well for a long time.

But now, as native Americans are wont to say, we need to dream all this again. It’s something that we haven’t had to very often think about. And like our highway system and free broadcasting and the great socialization of the energy industries that prevented Americans from knowing how much gas always cost, we need to do it now. How are we going to pay for the reporters when we won’t pay for media of choice to provide it? We want it free and without advertisements.

Technology has made so many jobs feather bedded make-work. This has long been a fear and enemy of Labor and the Left, but their solutions to this inevitable Long Defeat have made the problem worse by giving entrenched powers the ability to impede progress, bad AND good, with jobs so obviously pointless they cannot but depress those who hold them.

Whether dining car porter or anchorman.