It's The Pitts: Communities of strangers

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Newspapers tell us the news, they aren’t supposed to be in the news. Sadly, that’s the case as I read more and more pundits predicting the end of newsprint. Many newspapers, it seems, won’t even be around to carry their own obituaries.

Supposedly we’re going to do all our reading on our cell phones and electronic tablets and companies like Google and Nokia are already dancing on the graves of the newsprint dinosaurs.  I can easily do without television but I can’t even begin to imagine breakfast without a newspaper. It pains me to see once big city great daily newspapers, the grand dames of publishing, shrinking in size and status. But before we relegate all newspapers to the scrap heap of history I’d suggest we consider the many things that newspapers can do that the Internet can’t, and I’m not talking about swatting flies, lighting kindling or lining the bird cage. ( When you’re face has been pooped on by a parakeet you know you’ve arrived as a syndicated columnist.)

There was never a lot of extra cash laying around our house but my mom always found the money to subscribe to the local paper. My mother was a smart woman and she knew that newspapers kept her children and her country better educated and free. She also knew that our community newspaper was what gave us a sense of  community. Today we hear about Facebook and other Internet “communities”, but they are communities of strangers. “Friends” who’ve never met. 

Readers of a community newspaper know each other.  Our local newspaper keeps us informed of what is going on, who died, who needs our help and where to shop. I can distinctly remember the first time I ever got my picture in the Santa Paula Daily Chronicle. I thought what greater accomplishment could there possibly be? My grandmother disseminated that clipping far and wide.

The best writing I’ve ever read was in newspapers. Don’t forget, Mark Twain got his start writing for the Territorial Enterprise newspaper. I grew up reading a sportswriter named Jim Murray and I believe he’s the reason I’m a writer today.

When you write for a newspaper you’d better get your facts straight or you’ll hear about it. That’s not so with the Internet. I learned real quick not to trust it as a source. Writers for newspapers pay their dues and must prove they can write, whereas all a person has to do on the Internet to become a writer is start “blogging.” Most of it isn’t worth the paper it’s NOT written on. A newspaper makes money by hiring competent reporters with a nose for news and then selling that news to folks with a need to know. Are we really going to trade that for gangs of Internet bloggers? 

My favorite parts of any newspaper are the letters to the editor and the obituaries. I love it that anyone with a bone to pick or an ax to grind can get their name in the paper by writing a letter to the editor. Be advised though, “It’s never smart to get into a feud with someone who buys ink by the barrel.” That old bromide reminds me of the fellow who, years ago, wrote to a small town editor that the only use for his newspaper was as a replacement for the corn cobs in his outhouse. To which the editor replied, “Keep doing that and your behind will know more than your head ever will.”  

That’s exactly the way I feel about Internet news.

I’ll admit I’m partial to newspapers because I voraciously read them and delivered them on a bicycle as a child growing up. They kept me fiscally and physically fit. Sure, I admit that newspapers do occasionally get all wet in the rain, leave ink on your fingers and that I-Pad news might save trees. But life without newspapers? I hope I’m not around when the only news you can read is on some tiny cell phone screen, for I believe that if community newspapers do die, so too will the real communities they serve.


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