Sunday, December 18, 2005


Save my job - read a newspaper


The crumbling front page in my hand is from the October 7, 1973 Sunday New York Times. The headline - which runs across eight columns and two lines - reads: 'Arabs and Israelis Battle on Two Fronts; Egyptians Bridge Suez; Air Duels Intense.'

This is not a facsimile. It's the genuine newspaper saved all these years.

I am a newspaper junkie. In addition to thousands of clippings from the pre-Google era, there are about a dozen vintage newspapers in my archive: like the Times from Tuesday, June 9, 1981: 'Israeli Jets Destroy Atomic Reactor; Attack Condemned by US and Arab Nations;' and the one from Monday, February 12, 1979: 'A Khomeini Victory.'

Why this trip down memory lane? Because newspapers, with which I became enamored in high-school and through which I earn a living today, are supposedly going the way of black-and-white television and the eight-track cassette.

If true, this is a bad thing because traditional newspapers offer information in a format that cannot be duplicated by radio, television - or the Web.

As the Post's Yehezkel Laing reported on Friday, fewer and fewer Israelis are reading - forget about subscribing to - the Hebrew dailies. Only a handful of the people I know have any newspaper delivered.

It's a global phenomenon. Americans bought more newspapers in 1960 than they did in 2003. Only 6% of young Americans subscribe to a weekday newspaper; even among the over-45 crowd a paltry 30 percent read the dailies.

Still, newspapers everywhere claim to 'penetrate' the population. Sixty percent of Israelis, 57% of Americans, and 70% of Brits are said to be exposed to daily newspapers, perhaps at the office, barber shop or cafe.

The Friday weekend editions remain popular with Israelis - many petrol stations offer you a free paper when you gas up - though even weekend readership is dropping.

When I ask folks why they don't read a newspaper they say they don't have time, or the news is out of date by the time they get to the paper, or they'd rather not know what's going on.

Well, I'm trying to make a living here, folks, and this kind of thinking isn't helping.

TO THE people who don't want to know the news, all I can say is, please don't vote come election day. And to those who don't want a daily paper on their doorstep because it may contain views they disagree with: If you crave serenity, go live in a ashram.

On the other hand, I do sympathize with people who say they just don't have time for a daily newspaper. Anyone who lurches to work on a Dan or Egged bus could hardly be expected to read a paper as well, though heroically some try.

Still, organizing time is a matter of priorities. Previous generations didn't have the time-saving conveniences we enjoy; yet our parents and grandparents made time, not just for a morning paper, but often for an afternoon one as well.

True, news breaks between the time a paper goes to print and the time it's delivered to your door. Which is why the Web does serve a 'breaking news' function. It is also a great way to peruse out-of-town newspapers.

But neither radio, introduced in the 1920s, nor cable television news, which came on-stream in 1982 - or today's Wi-Fi Internet - can supplant newspapers. Because in an age of information overload, newspapers give you not only the 'who, what, where and when' but also the 'why-this-matters' context that is so necessary to be truly informed. By scanning the front page of a quality newspaper you also get a good sense about what's really important.

But why not read the newspaper for free - as most are - on the Web? Because people don't read articles on computer screens with the attention hard-copy newspapers demand and the comprehension they elicit.

The medium via which information is imparted influences how it will be comprehended. Reading a newspaper on the Web is like drinking skim milk. You can fool yourself into thinking you've had the real thing, but you haven't. And at many newspapers (though not this one), there's little connection between the Web site and the editorial side.

Moreover, the role of the media goes beyond reporting news to serving as a tool for political socialization. It is through the media that political values are inculcated. The media instruct citizens as to what events mean for them as individuals. And it is the media which seek to persuade, through editorials and coverage, what people should think.

For instance, the media in modern Germany promote zero-tolerance toward neo-Nazis - which some might call bias, but I call responsible journalism.

The question is, should we entrust such responsibilities to a bunch of geeks slapping the news on the Web at breakneck speed, or to journalists working under the checks and balances of seasoned editors? (The Post's Web site is actually run by the paper's editorial department.)

Enlightened readers know that newspapers provide the breadth and depth the electronic media alone can't duplicate. And advertisers know it too. The Newspaper Association of America reported that advertising expenditures for the fourth quarter of 2004 increased by 4.2% over the same period a year earlier. Savvy advertisers want to reach people who go beyond 'click and scroll.'

I'm not a Luddite. All I am saying is that when it comes to newspapers, technology can only take you so far. Perhaps the ideal way to read a paper that's not locally available is by subscribing to the page-by-page electronic facsimile.

Combining Wi-Fi and a facsimile allows you, at last, to take your digital newspaper into the toilet - just like the genuine article.

– From a March 7, 2005 Jerusalem Post column

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