We were visiting a friend's place near downtown Chicago yesterday. She's in a townhouse in an upscale, fairly hip, urban area. As we were walking to her place, I spotted a copy of the day's Chicago Tribune on the sidewalk. Not litter, but a copy that was delivered to someone's doorstep. Still in a clear, plastic bag along a busy sidewalk. This was pretty late in the afternoon, mind you; late enough in fact that the paper had already begun yellowing in what little sunlight there was there. The paper was still there when we left an hour or so later.
What struck me was that the paper had clearly been sitting there all day with hundreds, possibly thousands, of people walking by. And no one -- zero people at all -- thought it was worth swiping.
When I was in college, very few people (well, my peers at any rate) had extra cash for newspapers and magazines. But we still had enough interest and respect for those media that when we happened across a free paper -- one that was left behind in a toilet stall or one that sat on somebody's front porch too long* -- we scooped it up and it got passed around to a few friends. Today, everyone just ignores the paper as if it was just more litter. A crumpled McDonald's bag or an emptied can of Red Bull.
This evening, I happened across a copy of today's Chicago Sun-Times. Not unlike how I came across them in college, this paper was left behind at a booth in a fast food restaurant. So I flipped through it while eating my burrito. Now, granted, the Sun-Times is not as reputable a paper as the Tribune but there was absolutely zero in that paper that I felt was worth my time, even considering that I was also using that same time to eat! The process of turning the pages, only to find page after page of worthless tripe was mind-numbing. I tried reading, I think, two actual articles, but couldn't finish them because they were so vapid as to insult anyone with enough intelligence to pass the mirror test.** Even the comics, which surprisingly did NOT include any of those old legacy strips that stopped being funny 50 years ago, were crap. It was a free newspaper and I still felt I overpaid for it!
We all know that newspapers have had problems trying to keep up with the internet. The web provides a much faster, easier, more efficient way to get news and comics. I don't need to go into the details about all that. But I find it stunning that newspaper publishers still seem oblivious to this. I mean, they must still be making SOME money; they'd all have gone bankrupt by now otherwise. But to continue doing exactly the same thing that they've been doing, when that's clearly not working, seems willfully ignorant to the point of stupidity.
Look, I know I'm not a newspaper man and I haven't studied the newspaper business enough to provide anything I would even claim as a possible solution. But just killing time by doing the sam-ol'-same-ol' while you earn less and less each passing year seems like a sure-fire way to write your own obituary.
* I think the general rule of thumb we followed was that if you were too busy or lazy to pick your paper up by noon, you either weren't home or weren't interested. Yes, this was totally rationalizing on our part.
** No, not the psychological study to see if animals/children have enough self-awareness to recognize themselves in a mirror. The physical test of holding up a mirror to your face and seeing if your breath fogs it up.
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