Monday, January 26, 2009

The Sad State of the Union Tribune -- A Microcosm of the Macro Newspaper Dilemma

Obviously, newspapers across the country -- around the world, really -- have been hammered by the digital age. The proliferation of free online news -- CNN.com, etc. -- has led to mass layoffs and ever-smaller print newspapers. Why pay for out-dated news when you can get the most up-to-date news online and for free? And, even if you want your local newspaper's content, why pay for a subscription when your newspaper makes all of that content available for free online?

My city's "The San Diego Union-Tribune" exemplifies the cold hard realities facing-- and resulting sorry state of -- print newspapers in this day and age. For a long, long time now, the Union-Trib's "Business" section has been essentially useless. Today's (i.e., Monday's) Business section consists of 8 pages -- but only the first page has ANY news (the rest are all classified ads)! I regularly immediately discard that section -- as well as much of the rest -- for these reasons and go elsewhere for the content I need. As a result, I now essentially read only the paper's entertainment section to check out local theatre listings (and clip their movie discount passes) and sports section (to follow the Chargers).

Consider further Exhibit A -- i.e., the Union-Trib's "A" section from today. Of the 25 news stories overall, only 1 -- yes, 1! -- was written by a staff writer.

It is not that the Union-Trib has poor writers. Rather, it is simple economics. And, sadly, that means that today's "luxury" of staff writers -- which was yesterday's necessity -- is going the way of the dodo bird. That is the plight of the local metropolitan newspapers -- and the talented people who have given their personalities in the past.

I still subscribe to print editions of The San Diego Union-Tribune -- as well as to the Los Angeles Times and Wall Street Journal. But, that is because I still like the old world style of feeling and flipping a paper in my hands. This old world charm, however, fades away as the current realities increasingly make themselves painfully obvious.

Maybe someday I will buy a Kindle -- but, there is something charming of turning pages and highlighting sections. And, you can't save (at least in a compelling way for posterity) the Presidential election headlines; and, you can't display digital books on your bookshelves at home.

Sadly, this charm is fading for newspapers ...

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