Tuesday, July 22, 2008

What if there were no newspapers?

The textbook I use in my Mass Media and Society class poses a compelling question:

What if there were no newspapers?

That’s no idle question. Newspapers as we have known them are fast disappearing.

Part of the answer to the question depends on what, if anything, we replace newspapers with.

Among the candidates are television, the internet, on-line newspapers and — nothing.

The question also asks us to consider what we value about newspapers. And it must be considered along with its companion: What don’t we value about newspapers?

My gut reaction is that if there were no newspapers we might gain the opportunity to re-assess what is important to us. We’d find out even more if we asked the question: What if there were no mass media at all?

In 1853, newspapers were the sum total of mass media, and in that year Thoreau famously had this to say about them:

“I have no time to read newspapers. If you chance to live and move and have your being in that thin stratum in which the events which make the news transpire — thinner than the paper on which it is printed — then these things will fill the world for you; but if you soar above or dive below that plane, you cannot remember nor be reminded of them.”

So, what if there were no newspapers, no mass media? More of us might “soar above or dive below” their passing, flimsy content.

There’s another approach besides “having no time” for news trivia and media intrusion: Do something about content. Here is where the internet is a solution. We can turn to its vast trove of knowledge at times of our own choosing. We are not tethered to a pandering, insatiable, time-bound, news-cycled, (and recycled) mass media.

Thoreau himself had access to a compendium of knowledge and insight that served his “soaring” needs. It is still available to us today: Books.

Thoreau’s own books have inspired “soaring” for more than 150 years.

Books, traditionally housed in brick-and-mortar libraries, are increasingly found on-line. And much of their content is free.

What if there were no newspapers? We might begin to free ourselves of the “daily news” and seek greater and deeper meaning and understanding in the fullness of time within ourselves and elsewhere.

We might realize that the sources have surrounded us, just waiting to be called upon: teachers, parents, friends, neighbors, authors, sages, children, Nature.

Why have we not paid attention? Where have we been? How did we become so distracted?

What if there were no newspapers?

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dick Cheney would love for their to be no newspapers. Aside from many other things, newspapers, as you know, have taken very seriously the role of serving as a watchdog for the public good against government, business, etc. If, say, the Washington Post went away or was so curtailed by cuts that it couldn't do this job, who/what would?

8:16 AM  
Blogger Rick Seifert said...

On-line newspapers and blogs are taking on the watchdog function. You could argue that blogs are doing a better job than "old media" papers. Where were the papers during the run-up to the Iraq War? Where were they before the housing market meltdown? Why no investigations of sleazy lending practices?

The financial piece has to be worked out, but foundations are starting to step up to fund investigative reporting on-line. Readers (sometimes known as "citizens") may be called on to foot the bill as well.

9:58 AM  

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