Junk News

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Sometimes, the old TV shows have it right. Mom is in the kitchen, the kids are playing with trucks on the den floor, and Dad sits in "his" chair, reading the newspaper. It's an image almost as American as apple pie. Throw in a dog at the foot of the chair, and you have a winner.

As much as digital music distribution aggravates me, one has to wonder about the news - where it comes from and whether to trust it. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (the AJC), not so fondly referred to locally as the Urinal-Constipation, is the only newspaper in a metro population of 5+ million. One might wonder if public regard for the AJC would emerge beyond the bathroom if there were any competition.

In fact, there is. The commute offers a couple of "news-only" radio stations that give the basics each day. Internet news is a click away. Television is saturated with news channels, including both the events and opinion which my dad favors and the celebrity shambles that attract teenage girls and, apparently, many adults. Then there's ESPN, which we'll leave untouched its pristine glory. But I digress...

The AJC this week "bought out" the contract of its principle college football writer, Tony Barnhart in a cost reduction move. Barnhart provides the factual substance and opinion to college football that, for those of who follow it, is actually news. The reader learns something.

Curiously, they retained two writers who only purpose is to jot a ridiculous idea for the sole purpose of inciting their readership to respond. One wonders if simple feedback to the newspaper is the only measurement used to determine if a writer's work is being read.

Where does "news" come from? There has to be someone at the scene or making phone inquiries about "something," then setting pen to paper, who is getting paid to do so. Objective journalism, right?

To my father's chagrin, he must drive a few miles to buy a newspaper when he visits. I've got the chair to use, at least. Perhaps twice a year a college kid comes by a door with great offer to subscribe to the AJC, significantly off the newsstand price. As I live at the far end of the neighborhood from the entrance, their faces vary from being resigned to failure to outwardly aggravated that the offer wasn't accepted yet again. They really are good deals, after all. I'm not the only one who turns down their offers, it seems.

Why would I want to? The same newspaper has a website where I can digest all major international, national and local events within a few minutes. For free. No inky fingers. No mound of paper to haul off to be recycled. In fact, the only issues we buy are typically the Thanksgiving and Christmas editions for the advertisements. That's kind of funny - paying for advertisements. And I'm not sure how long we'll do that, as retailers seem to discount things throughout "the shopping season."

I understand the power of advertising. It works. But with circulations declining, the continued "greening" of America, and the alternate media sources available, it's hard to fathom how revenue will be sustained to support newsprint, or, more specifically, the news writers (never mind the editorial, sales, printing, and distribution aspects of a paper). Even on websites, revenue is a mystery because I know of no one who actually clicks advertising links.

News seems destined to come to us from two means (granted, I'm generalizing) - 1) Mega News Corporation - already known as "The Great Evil" by Conspiracy Theorists saying all news is controlled by one person seeking to create Utopia, crash the free enterprise system, or (insert motivation of choice). This would, of course, be sustained by Mega Advertising.

Or 2) Organic "news" populated by unknown people who lack credentials or a means of identification, and thereby accountability. As pen is no longer put to paper (reference source: my kids' handwriting), anyone anywhere can make keystrokes that fill the digital space. (reference source: me as I type this. Yessiree - verified references, so I'm legitimate!).

Overall, I don't think our newest generation will miss newspapers, just as they won't miss Compact Discs or physical books (Kindle, anyone?). Still, newspapers remain a major source of information, but their decline will be hastened when they discard their strengths (ala Tony Barnhart) in favor of junk news.

Oh, and I forgot to mention, given the state of Atlanta sports teams, the newspaper is simply depressing from beginning to end. Who wants to pay for that?

1 comment :

  1. As my sister works at our local newspaper, what you have talked about hits home to me on a lot of levels. Our local paper was termed "the mullet wrapper" for many, many years. It was full of mostly gossip and innuendo and as the saying went, "only fit to wrap a mullet in". If you wanted to read news, you read the St. Pete Times. Eventually the paper was bought by one of those giant conglomerates and started churning out real news and has slowly gained some respectablility.

    Recently, in a way to save money and cut costs, the newspaper cut its overall size down. Smaller paper, size wise and print wise. This saved money on paper and ink costs, as well as saving space storing the paper. It has gone digital as well and is free to read on the 'net, but still churns out thousands of papers every night. You would simply be amazed at where these papers are headed: Nursing homes, hospitals, fast food/diners, convienence stores, grocery stores, hotels, libraries, local offices and jails are a few of the many businesses that order multiple copies of the local newspaper to have on had for their customers. (We won't even mention the stand alone paper boxes.) You may not have realized since you don't read it, but I bet if you take a look around you will see them way more places than you realized.

    There is a problem with this in that they generally get a discounted rate and don't count as much towards subscription numbers. Advertisers only want to spend money based on how many homes their advertising is geting into. So say, if you have 100 papers going to the local hospital or 100 papers going to the community of Smallville, obviously Smallville is going to show up better to advertisers. Thing is, with costs these days, if you work at the hospital, why buy a paper, when you know you can read it for free when you get to work or pick one up at the local convienence store on your way home??

    I hate to say this, but I would rather hear about a writer getting laid of than those blue collar behind the scenes workers, like my sister, that keep the papers hitting the streets every night.

    But, of course, I don't read the paper either. I get my news from the best source of all, my mom. If something important is going on that I need to know about, she will tell me all about it, *grin*.

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