I was seven years old sitting out on our porch on Beechwood Drive in Cumberland, Maryland waiting for the newspaper man to bring me the box scores of the previous evening's baseball game. Baseball might have been my first love, but newspapers were a close second. This is another trait I inherited from my father. He read the newspaper every evening after work. When the Huntington Advertiser disappeared in 1979, three years after we moved to Huntington, West Virginia; we began reading the morning paper Herald-Dispatch. After he retired his mornings started with a cup of coffee and a newspaper.
Baseball may have first hooked me up with the daily newspaper, but other features soon followed. Of course, as a kid I loved the comics. Even as an adult I loved Doonesbury and my all-time favorite Calvin and Hobbes. I got into current events while I was in school. As a twenty-something I loved the Entertainment section so I could see what was going on around me and where I wanted to go out socially. As I get older, Local News has become my focus as I am now much more interested in what is going on in my community. The television page was one of my favorites growing up so I could see what my favorite shows were going to be about that week. Of course, as I moved out on my own, the coupons and store adds became important.
Every town, I travelled to for fun or business, I picked up a local paper and learned about their communities. In the 80's and 90's I would venture to Nick's News in Huntington and buy out of town newspapers like The New York Times and Cincinnati Enquirer. Newspapers were the main way we found jobs and apartments. I bought out of town newspapers when I thought about moving away and finding a job. The newspapers were our Indeed.com because there was not an internet then. The loss of the classified revenue has hurt newspapers as well over the years.
All through my life, the newspaper has been there with me. Paying the paper bill each month was as important as paying the water or electric bill. The newspaper has now become like Puff The Magic Dragon or even better...a staggering dinosaur. It's not that we do not love the newspaper anymore. Like my other young love - baseball - we've changed. While baseball just isn't fast enough for many of us anymore, the newspaper is not either. Like baseball, the newspaper is not any slower - we have just become too fast and too demanding. Just like many of us prefer the fast paced game of football to baseball, many of us want our news as it happens. First our computers and now our cell phones alert us to breaking news. If it happens at 3PM, we know about it now. We do not have to wait until the paperboy delivers it to our porch the next day.
In a sense, the news business has become like the music business. People have become so used to getting the news online for free, they do not like to pay for it. I always prefer to have something tangible in my hands. Just like I love the whole package of a CD and prefer it to downloads, I love to have the newspaper in my hands to savor the news.
It is getting harder and harder for newspapers to make money. As newspapers attempt to go digital, they find that younger people are getting their news through social media where it is free. Digital sales have not been as successful as print newspapers.
According to an editorial in The Washington Post in late 2018, "In the U.S., weekday print circulation has shrunk from a high of nearly 60 million in 1994 to 35 million for combined print and digital circulation today — 24 years of decline. Advertising revenue has cratered, falling from $65 billion in 2000 to less than $19 billion in 2016. Newsroom employment fell nearly 40 percent between 1994 and 2014.'
My local newspaper, The Herald-Dispatch has been hit hard. A merger of the two leading hospitals, Cabell-Huntington Hospital and St. Mary's, led to an advertising revenue loss for the newspaper of about $500,000. This led to the newspaper cutting The Entertainment Section out of the paper and laying off one of the area's favorite reporters, Dave Lavender. Now, because of revenue loss, The Herald-Dispatch will no longer offer a print edition on Monday. Of course, the paper is making proactive moves to keep from going out of business, but they are still staggering.
The staggering of local papers is very tragic. Newspapers are not just the format, they are a style of reporting. The reports offered by The Herald-Dispatch is much deeper than offered by the other methods of media reporting such as TV and radio. If The Herald-Dispatch has to lay off more writers, the quality of the articles will suffer drastically.
The newspaper headline has always been an iconic part of our history. We have learned many events through waking up and unfolding the morning paper. It is hard to envision the newspaper not being around. The newspaper has become a dinosaur in terms of distribution and getting the news to print, digital gets it there much faster. The dinosaur may still be standing...but it is definitely staggering some.