Saturday, November 17, 2007

In Defense of Newspapers

The Writers League of Texas consistently has good speakers for their programs. This month was no exception. Fred Zipp, managing editor of the Austin American Statesman, talked about what’s been happening with newspapers and the impact of the internet. I kept thinking of the parallels with book publishing: consolidation of distributors, fewer buyers, rising costs, the issue of credibility when anyone with a computer can put content on the web.

As I listened, I found myself thinking how much I love newspapers. I love reading the different sections. I love reading about realities that are not my own. When I do, I feel a sense of connection with people I might otherwise never meet or know about. I am reminded that my vision of the world can only be as valid as the information on which it is based. If I do not expose myself to ideas and viewpoints different from my own, how can I possibly believe that I have anything even remotely approaching a clear picture of the world?

I’m fascinated, too, by information that lets me project ahead to changes that might be part of my life in a year or two. I feel empowered by information that lets me make decisions that prepare me for trouble ahead that I might not otherwise know about.

I adore newspapers. I love to read them when I travel because it’s one of the surest ways to get a sense of a community. I love to read odd stories about things I would never have thought to look into if it wasn’t in the paper in front of me.

I’m not sure there is a substitute for newspapers. We can get headlines and short videos on the internet. We can watch news on television. But those are visual and auditory mediums. And I believe we process information differently when we see it written than when we hear or see it instead. (Mind you, I also believe newspapers can’t entirely replace videos on the internet or news on television either.)

Newspapers, by their nature, present a lot of information because they have the space to do so. And seeing information in a variety of areas allows one to grasp the bigger picture emerging—one that is affected by technology and social interests and politics and economics. In today’s world, we can’t afford to just stick to information regarding our own niche. If we do, we’re likely to be blindsided in our lives and/or our careers.

It’s not always comfortable to read the newspaper. We may have to think about things we’d rather not or in new ways or about areas that aren’t easy for us to process. But that’s what lets us grow—as individuals and as a society. How can we build and maintain a society that works for ALL its citizens unless we are exposed to realities that are not our own?

I hope newspapers last forever. They are the watchdogs for our society. They bring us news in a unique way that enriches our lives—if we allow them to. They are one of our greatest resources—both capturing snapshots of our society and helping to shape it by showing us possibilities we might otherwise never think about.

Technology will continue to change newspapers as it changes everything else. Maybe in a few years I’ll be reading mine on an electronic device that looks like a sheet of paper. I don’t know. What I am sure of is that as long as there are newspapers, I’ll be reading them. How about you?