Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The P-I, the funnies, and another warning ...

The demise of the print version of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer is bringing a new round of nervousness about the future of newspapers. It's almost like the Tom Lehrer song, "Who's Next?" -- although that was about the nuclear bomb and which countries were on the verge of getting one. (Egypt's gonna get one too/Just to use on you-know-who, SO .../Israel's getting tense/Wants one in self-defence/The Lord's our shepherd, says the Psalm/But just in case ... we're gonna get a bomb.)

Mind you, that's rather fitting: which newspaper is going to be next to get nuked?

With that, CBC Radio Vancouver did a "streeter" to find out what people would miss most if newspapers around here went under. The answer heard most was that people would miss the funny papers and the crosswords.

Not "incisive editorials". Not "hard-hitting, probing journalism". Not "the fact that someone is holding those responsible accountable". Not even "witty humourists who brighten my day".

Funnies and crosswords.

And that's the answer I would have given, too.

In another time -- another generation, come to think of it -- I would have had a passel of reasons for missing my newspaper, almost all of them locally produced writers:
Jim Taylor
Jim Kearney
Clancy Loranger
Allen Garr
Allan Fotheringham
Eric Nicol
Hymie Koshevoy
Len Norris
Same-day coverage of world events: the Vancouver Sun carried full coverage of the JFK assassination on the day it happened (remember that the Sun was an afternoon paper at the time), complete with a bio on Lyndon Johnson. The Province the next morning included information on Lee Harvey Oswald. To compare that with more recent newspaper procedures, by the early 90s, the Victoria Times Colonist "went to bed" so early that a Vancouver Canucks home game was treated as a "late start on the West Coast" and a score from the night before would often be reported as "game still in progress at press time".

Now, it's funnies and crosswords.

Once again, it's an indication that newspapers really have to take a hard look at themselves to see why "funnies and crosswords" might be the most-missed element. Re-thermed reports of the previous day's events, smarmy columnists and editorials that don't put difficult issues into context as much as they parrot prevailing public opinion, all couched in the cant of Journalism As The Guardians Of Democracy, don't cut it anymore.

Now, it's entirely possible that the reporter had actually edited out any answer that wasn't "the funnies and the crosswords". That's a journalistic trick to make sure that popular opinion is seen to fit the thesis of the story. Maybe there were 65 responses, 10 said "the funnies and the crosswords", and the other 55 said something about the reporting, the columnists and the value of journalism to democracy. But "the funnies and the crosswords" made for the better story. We have no way of knowing.

There's a certain poetic justice to that, don't you think?

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