Op-ed column: Loss of newspapers would be blow to a well-informed society

I don’t have much sympathy for AIG, the automobile industry or many of the banks, which are currentl

I don’t have much sympathy for AIG, the automobile industry or many of the banks, which are currently suffering in this economic downturn, but I wish I could do something to help the newspaper industry. That’s an industry that certainly needs and deserves a stimulus package.

I’ve always loved reading the newspaper. I grew up in a family of newspaper readers. As a kid in elementary school, I’d quickly look through the comics section and then the sports section before rushing out of the house to get to the bus stop on time.

As I grew up, my family would sit at the breakfast table and each trade sections of the newspaper, talking about what we were reading. Whenever I travel, I always enjoy reading through the local newspaper to see what the town or city is like. Newspapers are the most accurate barometer of a city’s personality.

I thought newspapers would go on forever or at least remain popular throughout my lifetime. I never though they’d come obsolete, but now I’m beginning to worry.

Analyzing problem

What happened to the newspaper industry? Most experts trace its slump to the advent of the Internet. Why subscribe to a newspaper when you can read it free online? For a while The Daily Gazette held out, offering only a paid Internet edition, while most newspapers in the country offered a free one. But now it has added a free online edition, while continuing to offer a more comprehensive paid one.

Advertising sales are down, subscriptions are down, and most newspapers are losing money, firing staff, some actually closing up shop entirely.

I can’t imagine what our country will be like without a healthy newspaper industry. Good newspapers are the watchdogs of our local, state and national governments. Newspapers are often the only critical element in society, and if they disappear, who’s going to keep an eye on things? They are also a forum for the discussion of public issues, and the best newspapers present both sides of an issue and have faith in the intelligence of readers to decide what’s best for a community.

Some people feel we don’t need newspapers anymore, and I must agree that there is a vast amount of information available for all of us to consume, but I don’t trust bloggers the way I trust our newspapers. I also feel too many cable news channels have agendas they’re trying to push, and fairly reporting the news is not always part of their agenda.

Many young people find looking though a newspaper boring and slow. Even my two children, who have grown up watching me read and enjoy the paper every morning at the breakfast table, rarely read the paper themselves. The news they receive comes from television or the Internet.

Now, I have no problem with television news. I like how it shows me the pictures of what’s happening, but usually with television news I only get the headlines. Newspapers present deeper articles and they often analyze things much better, and with a newspaper I’m in control of what I want to read and look at. In television I’m powerless. The network or the news show will put on what they think I either want or need to know.

New versus old

There are many people who feel newspapers have had their time, but they just aren’t relevant anymore with such new technology. I like new technology, but I also feel there are some old technologies that function very well as they are. I remember walking around with my dad in Albany and he would show me where the old trolley tracks used to be. “The trolleys were great,” he would say. “For just a few pennies my friends and I could ride all around Albany when we were kids.” Can you imagine how much better off many of our cities would be if we had left those trolley tracks where they were? Now that’s an old technology that should have been left alone.

So what can I do as a lover of newspapers? Well, I will continue subscribing to them, reading them, talking about them. As a seventh-grade English teacher, I will continue to make them a relevant part of my curriculum. Learning how to write like a journalist is a valuable skill because it forces you to take information, synthesize it, and then concisely write it down for others to read.

Three times during the school year I bring my classes to our computer center in the library and I have each class put together their own newspaper, complete with a news, features and sports department. My students take three days to put the paper together, and I sit back and watch them write articles, editorials, draw cartoons, interview students and teachers, and then edit and put the paper together. It feels like a real newspaper office minus the coffee drinking, and my students love every minute of it.

Looking ahead

Will our country survive without newspapers as we know them? We are people who adapt to change, even those of us who fight change at every opportunity. We may have a future where newspapers will only be online. Already I’ve noted how newspapers are so much less than what they were even a year ago, fewer pages, fewer articles, shorter articles, more pictures.

I hope we don’t let them go the way we did the trolleys, because when we let something get away it’s very hard to ever get it back.

Jack Rightmyer lives in Burnt Hills. The Gazette encourages readers to submit material on local issues for the Sunday Opinion section.

Categories: Opinion

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