Sunday, July 29, 2007

Don't believe the doomsday predictions about newspapers

Published July 29, 2007 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Here's hoping that some things never change. The Civil War memorial statues on Wisconsin Ave. in Milwaukee, no stadium naming rights to Lambeau Field and the Menomonee River Parkway in Wauwatosa will all, with God's good grace, remain unaltered in my lifetime.

What you're reading at the moment is a local newspaper that has existed in various incarnations since 1837. Different names, different mastheads and different owners, but, nonetheless, this paper has been a part of our consciousness for a long time.

Some of us are old enough to recall a time when we'd pluck out The Green Sheet from The Milwaukee Journal and read Mrs. Griggs' advice column. For some, the memories go back even further. Many have heard prognostications about a trend away from newspapers as consumers demand more information via computer and the Internet. Some maintain that since more people than ever obtain their news and entertainment online the inexorable death of the old fish wrapper is just a matter of time.

Nonsense! I doubt that the printed newspaper will ever become extinct - and not just because I want to doubt its demise. My reasoning is more practical.

A newspaper enables one to consume information with so much ease and so little dexterity that it cannot be duplicated. You just can't argue with good design. That is to say, is it conceivably easier or more satisfying to hold some wafer-thin (albeit newspaper-sized) screen and scroll through your daily pixels of news and pictures? Not for me. I'll never give up my pulp-based reading. Information technology can be a great enhancement to slake our thirst for information - and also a great waste of time.

For example, I've used two different handheld devices to support all of my phone, calendar, Internet and e-mail needs. The first device I loved because it was intuitive to learn and easy to use. I have a different device now that I detest for several reasons, not the least of which is that it is the most over-engineered contraption I have ever encountered. It was made by geeks for geeks who love the thing because it's state of the art, whatever that is.

But information technology and its beguiling ecosystem - the Internet - can't be judged so simply. It's a blessing, it's evil and it's a waste of time all at once. Creeps use the Internet to prey on children, but it also helps parents stay close to their children when separated by great distances. Porn sites proliferate, but so does some exceptional blogging and grass-roots reporting that help to equalize and make more transparent a very complex world.

Journalists are becoming increasingly reliant upon and held more accountable by just about any serious person with a modem and a hankering to share something important. Teens and adults fritter away countless hours playing games, but on the other hand . . . well, you get it.

It's the content that remains important - the digital and paper platforms will remain only as catalysts to slake our thirst for information, and they will continue to coexist. Whether you want news electronically or prefer to rattle those pages between your fingertips as I do, what's important is the quality of what we pull off of the platform.

Is it fair? Is it accurate? Is it useful? So don't write off the newspaper. It may be an aged medium, but it's one as comfortable as those trusty pair of shoes you'll never part with.