The Value Of Newspapers
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Pittsburgh Tribune-Review - May 7, 2008

As I daily scoop up my two newspapers from my front porch and later partake of my mailed Trib, it's difficult to imagine that the newspaper business is, as some gloomily portend, at death's door.

But it's not difficult to see why the financial rap is on.

The stock of the nation's third-largest newspaper company, McClatchy, between April 2005 to April 2008, dropped for many reasons from more than $70 per share to under $10. That's despite being one of the best-run newspaper concerns in the industry, according to John Bates, president of the Northern California Newspaper Publishers Association.

We all know about declining ad revenues due to the rise of Internet. Some argue these electronic pied pipers are leading the young out of print media forever; newspapers simply can't deliver the attractive demographics, they say.

But newspapers offer many intangibles. The value of your daily newspaper is an intense form of intellectual mainlining—a drug of choice that includes not only my favorite puzzles but well-wrought articles of urgent public interest. Why try to absorb something for a sustained period crouched over our computer screens when we can sit with a cup of coffee in our breakfast nook or with our feet elevated in our lounge chair?

Not only do we get substantive perspective about national or local news better from print but also specialty items that speak to personal problems, health issues, travel ideas or book reviews. It's stuff that can be regularly accessed—not popped out of the jungle of jiggling image messages that confront one on the typical, often confusingly cluttered main page.

Of course, when you are riding to work, you can bring your laptop along. But it's better having your paper—that compact pack of inexpensive info on weather, sports and everything else—folded in half for easy reading as you stand with packed train or bus riders.

Yes, newspapers' vital ad revenues are drastically down and this is lifeblood of print media income. Will amalgamations of newspaper properties continue and ultimately parallel that same phenomenon in radio, where automated stations squeezed the life out of radio? I would argue that the talk-show hosts have kept that medium alive and well; good reporting and sharp columnists can do the same for papers.

Newspapers always will be the quickest, cheapest and easiest way to plug into the local scene. Yes, the print market has shrunk but the access to any particular place using the local paper remains primary for most of us.

Just as the reports of Mark Twain's death were greatly exaggerated, so too has been the death of newspapers. Perhaps the newspaper industry will evolve into new configurations—a few national papers but many solid, big-city and small-town papers that defy the investment gurus' predictions by continuing to build readership and revenue in the competitive world where no singular medium can or will ever be a total monopolist.

So, stand by, dear readers. Your morning newspaper fix, like your morning coffee, is not going away anytime soon.

Donald A. Collins [email him], is a freelance writer living in Washington DC and a former long time member of the board of FAIR, the Federation for American Immigration Reform. His views are his own.

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