All the Print I’m Fit to Read

Walter Williams did a number on me. So, also, Rachel Maddow. And now just recently, Farhad  Manjoo in The New York Times. All of them, and many others, have conspired to make it exceedingly difficult for me to give up reading print editions of newspapers. This is so even though everyone — friends, family members, financial consultants — keep advising me to get my news online. Saves money, saves trees, saves time. Why am I being so old-fashioned?

I don’t know that “conspired” is the right word since none of these people has any idea that they are feeding into my dilemma. Furthermore, Walter Williams has been dead since 1935. But he’s as good a place to start as any. A journalist from Booneville, Missouri, Williams originated the concept that journalism education should be “professionalized and provided at a university,” as the University of Missouri Journalism School explains on its website.  “Toward that end,” it continues, “with the blessing of (the university) and the state legislature, and with financial help from the Missouri Press Association,” Williams started the world’s first school of journalism in September 1908. (I was there for its 50th anniversary when a World Press Congress brought journalists from around the world for discussions and seminars. I missed the 100th anniversary held a few years ago. )

Williams was the school’s first dean and later became the university’s president. Even though he was long gone by the time I was there, his inspiration lingered. A copy of his Journalist’s Creed that begins, “I believe in the profession of journalism. I believe that the public journal is a public trust, that all connected with it are, to the full measure of their responsibility, trustees for the public…” is displayed in bronze in the National Press Club in Washington DC. Also on yellowed paper in every place my husband Ed and I lived in.

Ed and I met at the university where he was a graduate student and I was completing my Bachelor of Journalism degree. We married and set off on a lifetime of journalism-related jobs on one coast and the other back and forth several times. Always, wherever we lived, we had at least one newspaper delivered daily, and when we were working outside the home, we made it a point to rise an hour earlier to give us time for coffee and the newspaper before starting our days. (Ed died a year and a half ago so I suppose any amateur psychologist could deduce another reason for my reluctance to discontinue the practice.)

Rachel MaddowBut now for the other enablers. Rachel Maddow, whose MSNBC programs are must watching every day for me, said something during this whole intolerable mess our country is involved in now that struck me. She, whose journalistic background has been limited to broadcast, pointed out that nearly all the substantive information that has been unearthed about Russian interference in our democracy has come from print journalists, specifically, from those working for large publications with sufficient staffs and time for digging. Broadcast outlets with the tyranny of time to fill can report the result of that digging — and are doing so. But as Maddow pointed out, it takes both endeavors to get at the truth. And it’s no secret that newspapers of all sizes are struggling. She then looked directly into the camera and encouraged her audience to  help save print journalism by subscribing to their local newspapers. How can I not?

And as for Farhad  Manjoo, he wrote about his experiment in self-imposed avoidance of digital news over the past two months. “I turned off my digital news notifications, unplugged from Twitter and other social networks, and subscribed to three print newspapers…plus a weekly newsmagazine,.” he wrote. His experiment still includes podcasts, email newsletters, and books and magazines. He wanted to continue to be informed, he wrote, “but was looking for formats that prized depth and accuracy over speed.”

He continued, “It has been life-changing. Turning off the buzzing breaking-news machine I carry in my pocket was like unshackling myself from a monster who had me on speed dial, always ready to break into my day with half-baked bulletins.” Now he is embarrassed about how much free time he suddenly has.

As someone close to age 40, Manjoo reveals he always liked getting his news on screen, “available at the push of a button.” Even with his experiment, he said, he “found much to hate about print. The pages are too big, the type too small, the ink too messy, and compared with a smartphone, a newspaper is more of a hassle to consult on the go.” I guess he never got, as I did from my father, a lesson in proper folding of a paper to enable reading on a bus or subway without encroaching on your fellow passengers’ spaces. (Fold vertically and then horizontally, tucking the read pages behind one another as you go.)

Today, twice Manjoo’s age, with my newspaper-reading taking place at home sitting in a comfortable chair, I admit it’s very pleasant being able to spread the pages out between my arms and turn them. When I’m finished, however, I do replace all the sections back into their original configuration before packing the paper up for recycling. Ed did that too, and we insisted the kids approximate it. Used to drive them nuts. “Oh, you old journalists,” they’d grumble.

On social networks, Manjoo says, “every news story comes to you pre-digested. People don’t just post stories — they post their takes on stories, often quoting key parts of a story to underscore how it proves them right, so readers are never required to delve into the story to come up with their own view.” (Which is probably what I’m doing here, so I’ll stop and urge you to look at Manjoo’s story in its entirety.)

But one last plug for print. If you Google “retention of information in print versus online” you’ll see the results of several studies that give the nod to print.  People absorb and retain much better what they read in print, these studies reveal. And as someone who needs to hang onto whatever shreds of information I can, I find that comforting.

As for the paper vs. screen dilemma, my journalist daughter maintains, “Whether on paper or online, good journalism is still good journalism.”

journalists-creed

 

 

Et Tu, Print Publishers?

newspapers

One more dagger to the heart of journalism: The Newspaper Association of America has decided to eliminate the word “newspaper” from its official title. Henceforth, it will be called the News Media Alliance. Jim Rutenberg of The New York Times cited Sept. 7, 2016 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.”

The reasons for the name change for an organization that has been in existence since 1887 are many, Rutenberg writes. The obvious reason, he notes, is the continuing drop in the number of newspapers, meaning fewer potential members. Membership “has fallen to about 2,000 from roughly 2,700 in 2008, executives there say.”

A bigger issue, the group’s chief executive told Rutenberg, “was that the word ‘newspaper’ has become meaningless in reference to many of the group’s members, including The Washington Post, The New York Times and Dow Jones. They may have newspapers, but they get large percentages of their readers online. Actually, you can’t even refer exclusively to ‘readers’ these days when so many millions are ‘viewers’ of online news video.”

journalists-creedOh, the pain of it! Walter Williams must be spinning in his grave. He founded the first  ̶  IN THE WORLD  ̶  school of journalism at my alma mater, the University of Missouri. He traveled the world extolling the principle that journalism is a profession requiring serious university study and accompanying respect. As outlined in Wikipedia, other colleges and universities began to emulate Missouri’s invention, and “Williams became increasingly concerned they would not adhere to the same high journalistic standards being taught at ‘Mizzou.’ So in 1941 he created the Journalist’s Creed, a statement of professional guidelines often evoked as the definitive code of ethics for journalists. It is posted in bronze at the National Press Club in Washington DC.”

It’s also in a frame on the wall of my office. Reading it in light of the current situation can make you cry. Or, in a week when Facebook can’t discern between child pornography and an award-winning depiction of the horrors of napalm bombing, just shake your head at how far we have strayed from Williams’ vision. The Creed begins:

“I believe in the profession of journalism. I believe that the public journal is a public trust, that all connected with it are, to the full measure of their responsibility, trustees for the public, that acceptance of a lesser service than the public service is betrayal of this trust.”  It goes on to endorse “clear thinking and clear statement, accuracy and fairness” as fundamental to good journalism, and that “a journalist should write only what he holds in his heart to be true.” It says that “suppression of the news for any consideration other than the welfare of society is indefensible.” And, in a time before we women forced ourselves into the profession, “that no one should write as a journalist what he would not say as a gentleman.”

There’s more, but you get the idea. Different times indeed.

So here’s a question for you: With the proliferation of online-only publications like Salon, Slate, Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, Politico, Jezabel and The Daily Beast, can it still be called “journalism” when there’s not actually a journal involved? Just asking.