Why Newspapers are Still Relevant

By kate on November 1st, 2005

I began this entry as a response to Christian’s blog post, “Newspapers Die By Their Own Ignorance.” When I realized how long it was getting, I decided to put it here instead…
I beg to differ (with Christian’s point). As a daily newspaper reader for most of my life (still am today), I dispute the fact that newspapers are obsolete. It’s too easy to spout the argument that paper should be buried with the dinosaurs, join the 21st century, blah blah blah. There’s still a lot of value in reading an actual newspaper.
Today, I can choose between sitting in my armchair every morning and reading news online (Steve’s choice), or reading the newspaper (my choice). I think it’s going to be a long time, if ever, before screens match paper’s ability to fit so much into a single large page (for easier and quicker absorption of news). That’s not to mention that it’s just nicer and better for my eyes not to add another forty-five minutes of screen-staring to my day.
I also find the newspaper to be the best source of local news. Unlike the uber-mobile people billg (a respondent to Christian’s post) mentions, I have roots here in Seattle and am interested in local happenings. I think it’s valuable to have people who are paid full-time to keep an eye on things around town (from events to politics to nightlife) and tell us what they find out.
I appreciate the editorial judgment of a newspaper. Let’s be honest – when most of us read news on the internet, we click only on links to headlines that interest us. This narrows our scope. In a newspaper, I at least skim every section, even business and sports (not my favorite topics); this broadens my horizons and makes me better informed. (This is the same reason I like to listen to KEXP. I don’t want to rely only on my own sense of what is good or important or interesting. I want others to have input, particularly others whose job it is to be well-informed.)
Finally, Christian’s point that investigative journalism is withering is simply not true. I’ll get into specifics in a minute, but think about what earns newspapers awards. If a newspaper earns a Pulitzer Prize, they can brag about that and use it to sell newspapers and get advertisers. It’s important to their bottom line as well as their moral code.
Over the last year or so, I’ve read important and influential investigative stories in both the Seattle Times and Seattle P-I. Here are some examples, all of which were originally investigated and broken by the newspaper listed:

  • “What can go wrong when the drug industry influences what constitutes disease, who has it, and how it should be treated.” (Times series)
  • “A vice cop gone bad, turned in by a high-dollar madam and his ex-prostitute wife. Members of an elite sheriff’s unit running out of control… And finally, days before the cop was to be tried, a top-level decision to pay him off and kill the case.” (P-I series)
  • “An investigation by the Seattle P-I found that millions of dollars in purchases by Washington art collectors have gone untaxed, and that an agent’s effort to collect that revenue was squelched by upper management at the Department of Revenue…” (P-I series)
  • “A Seattle Post-Intelligencer investigation of a major oil-company tanker fleet has found disturbing evidence that Exxon Valdez-inspired reforms are being evaded or undermined.” (P-I series)
  • “Despite confidentiality contracts, doctors are divulging details of their ongoing drug research – for a fee – to elite investors. Experts say the practice breaks insider-trading laws, violates medical ethics, and jeopardizes vital research. And government regulators seem to know nothing about it.” (Times series)
  • “The inside story of how an Army chaplain [James Yee] went from soft-spoken defender of Islam to accused spy, and how the case against him unraveled.” (Times series)
  • “Security breaches show the [airport security] system is overwhelmed and poorly managed, workers say.” (Times series)
    That’s not a complete list, either, but I think you get the point. All in all, I’ve chosen to trust a (carefully chosen) local newspaper to keep me informed about what’s happening in the world and at home. I hope there are enough people like me out there to keep the newspapers going for a long time to come.

  • Filed under: current events, media, reading
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    4 Responses to “Why Newspapers are Still Relevant”

    1. zachdms Says:

      I think newspapers provide a valuable location for less-partisan investigations, for less entertainment-driven work. I don’t know if they still have a long-term viable place in society, but there (slightly) less targeted nature does serve as a bastion against some of the influences that bastardize the on-line and television mediums.

    2. Hello, My Name Is Kate » Associated Press tattoo article Says:

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    3. Tony Wright Says:

      I agree that Newspapers have some value– though I’ll really only give you readability and scanability… You don’t need ink and dead trees for good editorial content. And you don’t need it for good local content (I subscribe to westseattleblog.com and seattlebubble.com – both are outstanding and make money).

      Newspapers deserve to die because they don’t serve their ACTUAL customers very well– the advertisers. Online ads are cheaper to deliver, are more measurable, and more actionable… They just WORK BETTER.

      I’m also going to back Christian on the withering of investigative journalism. There’ll always been a need/audience for deep investigative reporting. But economically speaking, 5 crappy linkbait articles online will perform better than 1 erudite masterpiece (and they both cost about the same).

      But just because it withers doesn’t mean that it’ll die. Some niche advertisers will buy more expensive ads from the news sources that chase journalism awards and produce less (but higher-quality) content,

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