The newspaper is dying, which is not news, although it is something newspapers like to cover, which says something about why they are dying. The reasons newspapers are dying, such as glacial management style resistant to risk and innovation, will not be examined here. Suffice to say if the folks who came up with Napster, Google, and Facebook had been hired by a newspaper, they would just now have worked their way off the Obit desk.
However, I come not to bury newspapers, but to mourn them.
When newspapers finally join the DeLorean as products in “Back to the Future” that no longer exist, they will take with them a host of small, daily treasures other formats can’t duplicate. The newspaper was able to offer these features because it attempted to appeal to a broad audience, which meant that if you showed up looking for stock tables, you would also get baseball stats.
The model no longer works because we have become a nation of niches. Also, newspapers no longer carry stock tables or baseball stats. They do have huge indexes on the front page though.
Anyway, here are some things that will disappear from our culture when the newspaper finally goes the way of a clearcut forest, which, incidentally, was what it used to take to make newspapers…
The Comics: Yes, there still will be graphic novels (although, will they contain the same wonder on Kindle?) but the three-panel comic strip will die with the newspaper. They worked in a newspaper because you would find them on your way to somewhere else. They were usually a small, pleasant diversion between Op-Ed and Sports. Unless, that is, you are looking for “Dilbert” in The Courant, where it appears in different places on different days following a schedule only John Nash could understand.
Sometimes though, the comics were more than a diversion. “Calvin and Hobbes” was one of the best bits of sustained art in the 20th century, an ongoing essay about the wonders of childhood through the eyes of an adult.
We will miss these amusements when they are gone.
The Crossword: The staple of single-guy lunch. You sit at the counter and do the crossword and, hopefully, impress the cute waitress with your command of four-letter words for obsolete. They sell books of crosswords but who wants to be the guy who brings a book of crosswords with him? As for doing them online, few things are less pleasant. The crossword in the newspaper was a small, perfect thing and it will not be replaced.
The Obituaries: Last winter, I was scanning the obits and found a familiar name. The father of an old friend of my wife had passed away. We went to the wake and the funeral and offered a temporary distraction from the grief that would eventually take hold. Without the newspaper we would not have been able to do this.
Perhaps Facebook can fill this void but Facebook would fall short in another sense. The formality of the Obits created a permanent and often moving record of a person’s life that can’t be replaced in more liquid modern formats.
If Today is Your Birthday: Walt Whitman and I share a birthday. I know this because I read it in the newspaper on my birthday. I also discovered that I was a swell fellow who was certain of new romance in July (a shock to my wife) and untold financial rewards in September. The key was going to be surviving August. Fun. Stupid. But once a year it was worth a look. What kind of narcissist is going to hunt down a Web site that does the same thing?
Letters to the Editor: No, comment boards do not replace letters to the editor. Valid opinions are backed by a name.
Box scores: The Internet provides more baseball stats than one could possibly need but it’s a bad format for scanning box scores. For this, the newspaper was ideal. The eye wanders and discovers things it didn’t know the mind was looking for.
Perhaps Alex Gonzalez went 3-for-4 last night, which makes one wonder if the Red Sox were smart in letting him go? Perhaps the Yankees played a four-hour game. Who else is playing long games? How many fans did the Pirates draw? Was Jim Reynolds umping a game somewhere?
Again, newspaper format ideal.
The Unexpected: Most people coming to CTNewsJunkie are looking for political news. You won’t find stories about dark matter and the origins of the universe. You don’t want stories about dark matter and the origins of the universe. Except every now and then it’s fun to read about dark matter, if only because you can tell people about it later and sound smart.
Makeshift Umbrella: A folded newspaper will protect you from the rain, at least for a minute or two. Try that with a laptop.
Matt Eagan is a former sportswriter and columnist for the Hartford Courant and several other Connecticut newspapers. He lives in West Hartford. His column appears occasionally.