Welcome, generation Ys, millennials, baby boomers’ babies or maybe acne-Facebookies, whatever you call yourselves as you connect to one another with your iFads. Somehow between tweets, texting, sexting and listening to 45 tunes you pirated from a web site, you have inadvertently picked up this object. It’s called a “newspaper,” because it is indeed paper and it sports news – well sports, too, and weather. We’ll get into them shortly because I know you have the attention span of a fruit fly.
Yes, newspapers are supposedly going the way of a balanced budget and those of your generation who still say “sir” and “m’am.” The printed media are facing hard economic times, along with most American companies. Have you heard of Continental Airlines, Lehman Brothers or Circuit City? Can you spell GM? Why should newspapers not have problems? Actually, papers are simply changing forms as they have since Johann Carolus printed the first newspaper in Strasbourg in 1605. Example of this evolving format: The New York Times now has more readers than ever before (since 1851), and more people read the Times electronically than in print. So don’t write off – so to speak – newspapers, just omit the “paper” part.
Before you begin your first foray into this new form of information, here are a few tips. The front page, or Page 1, contains what the editors believe are the most important stories of that week, day or century. Obviously, you’d like the article on the fuzz busting up your meth lab to run back with cabbage ads. These stories tell you about elections, government, budgets and other important stuff because our local TV news programs certainly don’t.
What to avoid? All stories about lost dogs with the headline: “Dog Gone.” Same with ‘Snakes Alive” and “Group Slates Meeting.” Any headline that ends with a question mark means the paper doesn’t know the answer. Likewise, pass on photographs of one person handing another a huge replica of a check or five old white guys in suits wearing hard hats and pretending to shovel dirt. Also avoid reading any editorial or column voicing an opinion with which you disagree. It upsets the spleen. Besides, it might tell you something you’d rather not know. Ignorance is bliss, and Texas has some of the most blissful people in the world.
Today, many stories enter through the side door. “Charlie Jones thought it was odd that his parents didn’t send him a birthday card.” Later in the story we find out that his parents were hacked to death in their gazebo along with six friends and their bodyguards. I suppose a story could have begun: “Seaman J.J. Barnacle turned to his fellow softball teammate and said, ‘Gee, what are all those planes flying up there on a Sunday morning here at Pearl Harbor?’” Or perhaps: “The moon is 238,857 miles from the Earth, and up until now no human has ever stepped foot on it. But today…” The worst are sportswriters. “When Melvin Melvin was 14, his father took him bowling and…” They wait until the 15th paragraph to tell us who won, by what score and how. This backing into a story is fine in what we call “feature stories” or “soft news” – stories about anniversaries, profiles and stamp collections — but not in hard news stories, including the outcome of sporting events.
Obituaries, or obits, are usually paid ads by the next of kin who can write anything they wish. Grandpa could have “gone to his glory,” “entered his last hotdog eating contest” or “passed into that big Dumpster in the sky.” Rarely will you read: “Gramps looked up to see if the elevator was coming. It was.” Letters to the editor are a reflection of our readers’ comprehension of today’s event, which is close to zero. The current fad is to begin every letter with “Regarding,” then refer to an earlier story which you never read. Avoid letters that begin: “Now let me get this straight.” If the writer can’t figure out what’s happening, why bother the rest of us? Hey, buddy, when you understand what’s going on, drop us a line. Otherwise, we’re busy. Pass on any letter that begins: “Referring to Homer Glib’s snarky letter in answer to Morgan Pirate’s most intelligent letter…” You all fight it out and let us know the winner. Be sure to read and forward any letter applauding this column. Reviews are written by critics who can’t do it themselves.
You might read “Corrections.” These are the once-in-a-century mistakes a paper will make. They are rare because you can always trust the press. You may notice newspapers are the only profession that tells its customers the paper screwed up. Doctors call their mistakes “cadavers.” Lawyers call theirs “inmates” and diplomats call mistakes “wars.” Ours are out there for all to see. Pages filled with pictures of cars and carrots, houses and hammocks are called “ads.” They are trying to get you to buy something by parading their wares, telling you how great their product is, and announcing sales that ended yesterday. As with commercials on radio and TV, ads actually pay the freight for newspapers. Readers get a free ride.
Thomas Jefferson said: “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” Of course, Jefferson also said: “The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.” As always, this newspaper gives both sides of all arguments. Now you know all you need to know about this obscure form of communications. You can return to your little black boxes, but can you swat a mosquito with your X-78 iPhone? Do you recycle your androids? How many fish can you wrap with a Firefox rootkit megabyte? Welcome to the wonderful world of newspapers. Now app your hashtag and Google Thomas Jefferson.
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