Thursday, February 8, 2007

How I was Cured of Newspaper Addiction

A faked N.Y.TIMES page which illustrates with humour the tricks big newspapers sometimes use to attract new readers. The TIMES now has 1.5 million online readers.

I have always been an information junkie. I still am, for that matter. I recall that at about the age of thirteen I started reading newspapers seriously, even clipping articles to save for future reference. It’s needless for me to dwell on the fact that in school I was always better informed on current events than my classmates. You probably knew guys like me.

I have lived and worked in four Canadian provinces and I also worked in Taiwan for a few years. I taught at two colleges in Taipei, and also worked for a glossy Taiwan defence magazine. Wherever we made our home, newspapers formed part of my identity. No matter how busy life got, I made time for reading papers. Fortunately for me there were two small English dailies available to the foreign community in Taiwan’s capital.

When I returned to Canada it was to take a high pay - no brain, industry job in small town Alberta. There I starved for information, but never reduced to biting the doorknobs and tearing at the wallpaper with my nails. All there was at hand was the Edmonton Journal. I did receive a Taiwan paper every day for two years by mail. It was horribly expensive but for me it was the equivalent of a daily gulp of methadone. As I said, I’m an information “Junky”. When I bought a house in B.C. twelve years ago the first thing I did was subscribe to three newspapers – The National Post, the Globe and Mail, and the Vancouver SUN. I loved the convenience of the papers at my door before breakfast. For a year or so I could buy The New York Times at my neighborhood 7 Eleven. I was in urban heaven.

Then, too rapidly, the Canadian dailies began to leave me behind. The irritations began to pile up. Their editorial slants, their emphasis on personality politics, the coverage of an endless stream of crybaby social “issues”, the pandering to advertising blocs, and above all those horrible lifestyle sections. The newspapers were desperately searching for new readers but ignoring addicts like me. I labored for hours over Op-ed letters, bitching about the drift to infotainment. My letters were either hacked down or never printed at all. Then the Internet through me a flotation ring and I was saved. Since 2000 I’ve been cured of stacked newspapers in the broom closet. I now have a dozen news aggregators bookmarked on my PC. They come in all flavors - general news, regional press, political, military, science, archeology, entertainment, etc. If a story breaks which I am keen on, say the murder of a Chinese arms dealer, I quickly Google it, searching for the best local news sources in that city. It's bliss.

Down deep, I never really believed the voices prophesying the death of newspapers. All said, they are still a cheap form of leisure activity, and they do serve the purpose of providing limited coverage of our communities. This morning Matt Drudge pointed to an article published by HAARETZ.COM, in Israel. Arthur Sulzberger, owner and publisher of the most important newspaper in the world (it’s true!), The New York Times, was asked if he will be printing the paper five years from now. His reply -"I really don't know whether we'll be printing the Times in five years, and you know what? I don't care either." The Times is transitioning rapidly into an all-Internet service. Presently it has 1.5 million daily online readers and 1.1 million print edition readers. Its worldwide influence is far greater, as the paper maintains a benchmark excellence in reporting.

Now I do believe that the large printed papers are doomed. Will I miss the Vancouver SUN? No. It left me behind years ago. It’s advertisers don’t reach me, and its editorial board don't consider my needs. Still, I love the papers and even have a few ancient examples hung in frames on my office wall. It’s the classic tale of the man who was mean to his family but generous with strangers. No-one turned up for his funeral. That is the sad fate of many Canadian newspapers, isn’t it?

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