man-reading-newspaper2We know by now that newspapers are threatened with extinction, as least as we have known them over the years. All sorts of reasons are given for why that’s a bad thing, but frankly I think we’re worried about it for the wrong reasons.

The demise of newspapers is usually couched in grave terms such as the potential threat to our democracy, the loss of the important watchdog function that TV and the Internet can’t hope to fill — not to mention the loss of a veritable cornucopia of useful and important daily information.

But let’s face it, that’s piddling compared to what the absence of the traditional printed paper would really mean to our broader society, to our daily lives.

Think of the movies. How will Hollywood convey important plot changes in future movies without the device of a printed newspaper, splashed on the screen bearing some meaningful headline in big letters?

Just think of how many movies have advanced the story line by flashing a front page with a headline, “Magruder Escapes, Town Frightened.” It’s a quick, efficient narrative device.

Can you see anyone doing this with a laptop screen? It’s hard enough to read what’s on a computer screen in real life.

And how about the fast-forward display of front pages flipping before your eyes to suggest the passage of time in a movie storyline?

images-22Closer to home, for those of us in Georgia, think of what it will mean for esteemed members of the General Assembly not to have a rolled-up printed newspaper to hold high and wave dramatically as he or she berates the press for some story or editorial?

Can we ever forget how meaningful The Atlanta Journal and The Atlanta Constitution were to Lester Maddox, the former governor whose affection for the Atlanta papers knew no bounds? Think of how empty his life would have been without “them lyin’ Atlanta newspapers” to rail against and, from time to time, picket. He never said anything about WSB-TV, did he?

Lester’s affection for the Atlanta papers is immortalized in his portrait at the State Capitol, which tastefully shows a fish wrapped in a copy of the local paper on a table next to the fabled governor, restaurateur and gift shop operator.

And frankly, I’m embarrassed to even mention it, but are we really expected to install laptops in our bathrooms so we’ll have something to read while we, shall we say, do our business? And needless to say, a newspaper has other uses in this regard that modesty forbids me to suggest.

Let me also remind you that newspapers are practical in ways that go far beyond mere news. Have you forgotten how absorbent newsprint is, in case you spill something on the floor? It’s the real quicker-picker-upper. The utility of newspapers in birdcages is legendary, and I read somewhere they also make wonderful kites. I have wrapped Christmas presents in newspapers and been praised for my imagination, when in fact all I did was forget to buy wrapping paper.

images-41And let me tell you, if you have problems with a dog that jumps up on you when you enter the room, nothing beats a rolled-up newspaper against an over-eager dog’s snout. It’s a humane training device, since a rolled-up magazine might actually hurt the dog.

As for comics, who will supply them to us on a daily basis in the absence of printed papers – especially now that they come in full color? Certainly not television, and least of all the Internet. Where’s the incentive for electronic funnies?

No, friends, the demise of the printed newspaper, the newspaper as we have known it all our lives, as it has existed for centuries. will leave voids in our lives bigger and, some would say, even more important than their mere loss as a source of news.

And lest I forget, the fact that you’re reading this on the Web should not to be taken as a counter argument.


Tom Walker

Born in Spartanburg, South Carolina Aug. 11, 1935, Tom Walker graduated from the University of South Carolina and did post-graduate work at UCLA. He started work at The State newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina in 1958 and later worked for The Columbia Record, the afternoon half of the State-Record Co., covering politics, courts, police and civil rights in the '60s. After a little more than a year at the Los Angeles City News Service, a local news wire service in L.A., he joined The Associated Press in Charlotte, North Carolina. In February 1967, he came to The Atlanta Journal and was persuaded (forced?) to take the job as real estate editor. When the then-business editor left in 1970 Tom became business editor. When the Journal and Atlanta Constitution staffs merged in the '80s he became a staff writer, a post he held until leaving for a career as a free-lance writer in 2007.

  1. And, of course, newspapers are also good to hold over your head when it rains.

  2. Cliff Green

    Tom, it’s great to see you back in the flow…And, yes, newspapers will, despite all the hand-wringing, survive.

  3. Somebody said newspapers are dying because no one “lives” in Atlanta, Nashville, SFO anymore. They “live” online or in narrow affinity groups. The people with whom you interact most, the companies you watch, the writers you read are not the guy downtown or next door anymore. It’s just as easily someone in Tokyo or London or New York or anywhere. The only people who read AJC are people who live in the Atlanta affinity group. And that ain’t a large group. But it includes me!

  4. Maybe newspapers should offer something other than what you can read for free online. Maybe some kind of “timed exclusivity” with features or photography that would only appear in print for a time.

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