Dad Can’t Save Newspapers, but He’s Still One of Their Biggest Cheerleaders

by Mallary Tenore Tarpley

nytimes.com

nytimes.com

My dad, the eternal optimist, reads the newspaper every day.

“Front to back,” he says. “I love the newspaper.” Reading it online, he says, is too cumbersome, too time-consuming.

Let’s face it: He’s not like most people, who would rather read the paper online and get e-mail updates throughout the workday instead of waking up early to read it, or reading “old news” at home after work. I talk about newspapers and their demise regularly with my dad, mainly because of the work I do, editing and writing stories about the news industry for Poynter Online. My job is centered on online journalism, so I know its value. But I still read the paper every day.

Often, my dad and I share articles with each other about the newspaper industry. Mine are usually about bad news in journalism. His are always about good news. It’s as though he gets Google alerts for “newspapers are great!” or “newspapers will be saved.” (I wouldn’t be surprised if he did.)

In our most recent article sharing exchange, I sent my dad a New York Times story and a related map last week looking at the future of newspapers. The article said “some economists and newspaper executives say it is only a matter of time — and probably not much time at that — before some major American city is left with no prominent local newspaper at all.”

Ouch.

In the same e-mail, I told my dad about how crestfallen many of my friends seem about their jobs at newspapers, and how some have said they’d be happier if they were laid off. They say they’re tired of having to continuously face the fear of imminent loss.

This kind of news makes me sad. I love journalism and believe in its future, wherever it may end up. Maybe I’m too much like my optimistic dad, but I — and so many other journalists — have invested too much in this profession to prematurely declare its death.

In his attempt to be newspapers’ life line, my dad manages to find obscure  studies about the so-called “growth” of papers/readership. I have yet to see an actual article about any of these studies (!), but I trust he’s read about them somewhere.

Here’s my dad’s latest “I believe in newspapers” e-mail, sent last Thursday:

Hi Mal,

Hang in there. I have seen a recent study that local papers are actually doing well, and that young people are reading them! It seems that the larger city papers are the ones that are hurting the most. I will send that article to you. People have other, preferred ways to obtain world news, whereas the local papers are still the best, and often only, way to obtain local news. Also, every company in every field has to learn to run lean, to trim the fat. The weak will be weeded out and the remaining will survive, adapt, and become stronger.

Maybe you will find your happiness/success at a smaller paper, rather than measuring your success by the size of the paper that you work for. As you already know, the need for news will always be there, the delivery of it will just change, like everything else. Tape replaced records. CDs replaced tape. Internet downloads are now replacing CDs. However, more people purchase music now more than ever before. Only the format has changed. The music industry is not dying, it is only adapting. That is what the newspaper industry is going through now too.

Keep your eyes open. Things will work out for you.

Love,

Dad

Some may say he’s blinded by optimism, but you have to give it to him: he’s a good cheerleader — for newspapers and for journalism in general. Thank goodness for paternal, eternal optimists.

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