Now newspapers are making headlines

I first read newspaper comics when I was in J. J. Smith Elementary School. Specifically, Tarzan, the Lone Ranger, Dick Tracy and perhaps a humorous strip like Mickey Mouse. If memory serves me correctly, that’s essentially all I read in newspapers for the next 12 or 13 years, though the strips changed; for example, I became fond of Pogo and ‘Lil Abner. Mostly, I simply ran across newspapers in various coffee shops, where I’d glance at the headlines and entertainment sections before turning to the comics. (Of all the cartoons I recall from my youth, only Blondie has survived.)

During these years, I rarely listened to the radio or watched TV because city nightlife was infinitely more important – and it was, as you’ve probably surmised, prior to the Internet. Consequently, except for major news events like the assassination of President Kennedy, I generally had no earthly idea what was going on in the world.

I didn’t seriously read the “news” in newspapers until I settled down at a relatively permanent address. The first newspaper I read on a daily basis was the New York Times. (You may as well start with the best!) The first newspaper I subscribed to was the Seattle P-I. The fact that I could pick the P-I up outside my door was the start of a ritual that continues to this day: coffee and a newspaper each morning. If either of those components, the coffee or the paper, is missing, the entire day is off to a lousy start.

Well friends, just in case you haven’t heard, newspapers all across our nation are having serious financial problems, like the U.S. economy in general. Many, including the Seattle P-I, have gone broke and nothing in the “stimulous package” is reserved to bail them out. In fact, there are rumors that the Seattle Times may not survive the year. Alas, Seattle could become the first large, American metropolitan center without a daily paper. If that happens here, you can be sure it will happen in other cities as well.

The percentage of citizens reading newspapers on a daily basis has been steadily decreasing for half a century. The 1930s and 1940s were probably the golden age of print journalism.

I’m inclined to think this will negatively impact the general public because investigative journalism will be greatly imperiled. Who will probe crooked politicians, corrupt corporation like Enron and the shady activities of government? Of course, most local TV news has an investigative staff that allegedly pursues such matters, but they don’t seem as thorough as printed journalism. Then too, how many people actually watch TV news? Between 5 and 7 p.m., most people are fighting the daily commute, celebrating the cocktail hour or enjoying family dinner. As close as most people get to the evening national news is an occasional glance at the corner TV over a martini. The half-hour, 11 p.m. local news is much more popular, but this greatly reduces the amount of national news and investigative reports a viewer sees.

And, despite all the publicity it receives, how many people actually visit the Internet for news? In fact, very few. Do bloggers really investigate anything? Does anyone really pay any attention to them? In general, I think not. Some newspapers publish an online edition – apparently the P-I is considering this format – but very few of the electorate ever read any of this.

I have a disturbing sense that the public will become more and more uninformed.

But even more frightening, what will happen to Wally’s World? You surely know how informative and probing this column is. Why, if not for this column, half the people on the Plateau wouldn’t know where to get their next beer.

It’s very depressing.