Among the newspapers on my desk at work is one pinned to the corkboard of my cubicle with a headline that screams: “Extra, Extra, Read All About It! Father Of The Year!”
It was published by my then 6-year-old son for Father’s Day and is loaded with information about me, some of it inaccurate and speculative.
“My Dad’s favorite color is: Blue.” True. “My Dad’s favorite sport is: Soccer.” Not true. “My Dad is good at: Working at the newspaper.” That’s a matter of opinion.
I’ve been reflecting on that newspaper since learning that Sept. 7 “may well go down as the day the American newspaper as we’ve known it moved out of intensive care and into the palliative wing on its way to the Great Beyond.”
That was how The New York Times characterized the significance of the Newspaper Association of America, the trade group that has represented newspapers since 1887, dropping “Newspaper” from its name that day. The group now calls itself the News Media Alliance.
A lack of newspapers didn’t prompt the change, although their dwindling number was an obvious factor. There are about 1,300 daily newspapers in the United States today, compared with 1,500 in 1996, according to the association.
What drove the association to change its name, according to the Times, was that the word “newspaper” has become “irrelevant” to many of the group’s members, more and more of which are drawing wider and wider audiences online and fewer and fewer in print.
That dynamic comes with its own set of problems, or rather one big problem—making up revenue lost by declining print circulation. For various reasons, digital advertising is far less profitable than print.
You see where this is headed. Ad revenues finance the journalism newspapers produce. When those ad revenues fall, the result is cutbacks that inevitably lead to the newsroom. Fewer journalists means less news, and less news means…well, you get the point.
Fortunately, the Father’s Day edition newspaper didn’t have to worry about ads and audience. It’s filled with three-quarter page crayon drawings of me at work, fishing with my son and playing in the backyard. It’s a delightful, quick read.
But news of the Newspaper Association of America dropping from its name the very word that defined it left me wondering how much longer those Father’s Day editions would roll off the presses in first-grade classrooms everywhere.
Five years? Ten years? Twenty?
It won’t be declining ad revenue that kills those newspapers. It will be youngsters’ fundamental lack of understanding of the function of a newspaper. They won’t know what a newspaper is because they’ll have never seen one.
The Times quoted the vice chairman of the association as figuring Sunday newspapers would be around at least 20 more years, but that he couldn’t venture a guess for the rest of the week.
That doesn’t mean the children of tomorrow will be uninformed. The conventional industry thinking is that whatever form newspapers of the future assume will retain the vital services of newspapers—ferreting out corruption and holding government accountable.
Indeed, the best “newspaper” reporting of today is far superior to that of yesteryear. It’s investigative and includes interactive graphics, videos, galleries of visual images and links to source material that keep readers (viewers?) better informed and more engaged.
But producing the best of what newspapers offer in the digital age is expensive, and without the financing something’s got to give and when something’s got to give…you get the picture.
Perhaps first-graders of tomorrow will produce Father’s Day apps or websites equipped with all the bells and whistles of the best investigative reporting of their day. Their projects could be delivered to dads via text or telepathically, who knows?
If that’s the case, and the heart of newspapers is kept intact, the product would be something to embrace and cherish.
But it won’t be something a dad could pin to his cubicle corkboard, and that’s a little sad.
David Andreatta is a reporter and columnist with the Democrat and Chronicle of Rochester, N.Y. A 16-year-veteran of newspapers, Andreatta has received national and state awards for his investigative work and column writing. A longer version of this column was originally published at on.rocne.ws/2cTMQ6d.