Pre-mourning during a long demise

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By Jim Flynn

Our fascination with newspapers began when there were 2,500 dailies and six times that many weeklies in the U.S. Our attachment was instant and has obviously persisted.

National fascination with newspapers predates even Benjamin Franklin and his Pennsylvania Gazette, which began publication in 1730. The Pony Express carried papers across the continent to illiterate pioneers, who would gather ‘round to hear someone read the news.

By the mid 1800s newspapers were printing sports, high finance, juicy gossip, nasty letters, funny comics, and informed opinions. Newspaper empires were being created, a story told best in the classic movie Citizen Kane.

In the 1950s people began looking at television news, a blasphemy among print journalists. A new profession of visual reporting was created, but investigative journalism gave newspapers a life extension during the Watergate, Pentagon Papers, and Iran-Contra scandals. Television took its cues from the print media.

Now daily papers are running out of their second wind. Recently the venerable Christian Science Monitor announced discontinuance of its daily print edition, the demise of another great international newspaper.

When daily papers are no more, what brain stimulation will accompany our morning jolt of coffee? Television? Blogs? Yuk!

Usually we go right to the sports pages to read the latest crime news. It’s a rare day when at least one pro athlete doesn’t have a dust-up with a gang, a drug dealer, a manager, a spouse, a live-in lover, or a mouth fan.

After sports we make a quick trip through the entertainment and living pages. It’s sort of professional protocol, even though celebrities and cuisine generate nothing more than a ho-hum. We read the book reviews and were taken recently by an article about doghouse life.

Advice to the lost and lovelorn has provided an excellent living for Dear Abby VanBuren and her sister, Ann Landers, among others. Why didn’t we think of that? Dispensing common sense with a laptop beats 10 years of post-graduate study in order to soothe dysfunctional adults.

Local news follows a pattern – man arrested, woman arrested, teen hacks bank records, more ballots found, drug cache seized, orphaned pigs rescued.

Obituaries hereabouts are a visual challenge – Smith, Jr., John “Willie.” Time was when city folks referred to the obits as the Irish sports page. Immigrants used the obits to keep track of enemies and relatives they wouldn’t talk to under torture. “I’ll go to the wake, but I won’t go in!”

Front pages are often depressing: “Deficit soars; jobless claims surge, state aid plunges, stock market off.” Some days it seems like everything is headed in the wrong direction.

Other national and international news can be just as discouraging: “Car bomber strikes; brown cloud over Asia; tainted food imports discovered; ship hijacked; new vaccine discovered for genital warts.” Time was when big news was less intimate.

We save the comics and editorials for breakfast desert. Some comics are less entertaining than the editorials. Mallard Fillmore and Doonesbury qualify as right and left wing editorials with pictures.

Our favorite real comics are B.C., Garfield, Peanuts, and the brilliant Mother Goose and Grimm. They are the antidote which takes the gloom off the news.

No we didn’t forget letters to the editor. Readers want to know what other folks think. Letters to TV networks lack personality. Ninety-nine percent of newspaper readers have at least one letter to the editor which never gets written, or which fail the overnight wastebasket test. Some opinions just don’t sound as good the morning after.

During the 1945 New York newspaper strike, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia took to the radio on Sunday mornings on WNYC to read the comics to millions of kids of all ages. Always a showman, LaGuardia realized the Sunday papers were a family and community institution, particularly the funnies.

Television and the Internet will always lack the sense of community which comes from holding the news and comics in hand. Our premature mourning of their demise continues.

Jim Flynn was formerly a corporate counsel, served in military intelligence during the Korean War, and once aspired to be a newspaper columnist.