Getting the News

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by Hayden Hollingsworth

It comes as no surprise that newspapers are struggling to survive, or even if they should.  As has been pointed in this time of instant news, that by the time the presses get rolling, to say nothing of getting the papers into the hands of the readers, it is already out-of-date.  With all the instant electronic gadgetry available, how archaic to depend on a cumbersome day-old series of flimsy sheets to find out what’s going on in the world.

Online . . . that’s today’s way and there’s no denying its efficiency, cost effectiveness, and speed.  Facebook, Twitter, iPad, iPod, the Internet may soon reduce the printed page to a tiny portion of the media. Now, The Roanoke Star-Sentinel is taking the leap to become a more online presence.  The new visage will be RoanokeStar.Com; the business reasons for making the change will become evident in other areas of this issue.

While there will still be a paper version, one does wonder how long similar publications can last.  Name the newspapers or periodicals that haven’t had to redesign its image and redefine its audience and the list will be very short.  In my childhood, there were two Roanoke dailies, both owned by the same family, but still with a different slant.  The Roanoke World News, the afternoon paper, disappeared decades ago.

There were other standby staples in the world of publishing that no longer see the light of day. When Life announced their collapse, it was accompanied by similar deaths of Colliers, The Saturday Evening Post and leisure reading for information and pleasure disappeared, replaced by the infant world of television. Who would have thought that instead of our original two local TV channels there would now be 400 or more?

I still have a file of treasured issues of weekly publications and daily papers: Pearl Harbor, VJ day, President Eisenhower, assassinations and wars as well as a host of others.  Not only was the journalism crisp, but the photography told the stories in a static graphicness that television cannot capture.

There are exceptions to all these deaths.  Time, Newsweek, US News and World Report are all still around, but grasping at straws to survive. The National Geographic, a childhood favorite, remains a changeless treasure as does The New Yorker.  If they ever decide to delete their cartoons in the latter, then even they will have entered a new age.  The New Yorker realizes the lucrative nature of that portion of their work since many editions of cartoons have appeared as stand-alone coffee table items.  In legal offices, I always look around the reception area for the one about lawyers.

In a column some months ago, I suggested that in the next decade there will be only a handful of surviving daily newspapers:  The Washington Post (or not—they just laid off a huge number of staff), The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Atlanta Journal- Constitution, The St. Louis Dispatch, The Los Angeles Times, and a few others.  They will be published in many cities, perhaps even Roanoke, and will contain a page or so of local interest, the obituaries, advertisements, and the like, but will be written for regional readers with a staff of a half-dozen.  All of them have a huge online presence now and that will only increase.  The RoanokeStar.Com will have lots of company in an already changing and crowded field.

We have all learned to read on a TV screen, even one that you hold in your hand.  It’s not as irritating as it used to be, but online print material loses the ability to leaf back through a paper or riffle through a magazine and book with ease.  There is no sound from the computer that is nearly as enchanting as hearing your father snap the open newspaper to get the wrinkles out; that signified that evening was starting, and there might be interesting conversation following, “Did you see the article about . . . . ?”  Booting up doesn’t quite measure up.

I suspect moving to a more online format is good for this paper.  I would miss my Friday delivery in my mailbox. No doubt there was a lot of grousing in Egypt when scrolls were replacing papyrus; especially irritated were the sheep.  They got through it and Arab Spring would never have happened without electronic media.

Progress is required; enjoying it can be a challenge.  I suspect we are up to it.