Take a quick look at last week's Los Angeles Times. I was struck by how small Wednesday's edition was, a usually bulkier paper than on Monday and Tuesday, but now a wisp of its former self; comparable to Saturday's edition of the New York Times, which has always been known for its fashionably svelte size 4. If someone held a contest for the wispiest daily newspaper today, the LA Times would win, hands down.
Los Angeles Times Wednesday:
New York Times Saturday:
Talking about newspapers and their slow disappearing act, one wonders when it all started. Having just read the eye-popping revelations in Sallie Bingham's book, "Passion and Prejudice: A family memoir," about her family, the Binghams of Louisville, who owned the two local newspapers, The Louisville Times and the Courier-Journal, the slow kill started a lot earlier than the massive layoffs and online explosion of this past decade. Back in the early eighties when computers were replacing electric typewriters and eliminating expensive steps in offset printing, Barry Bingham Jr was alarmed at the decline in readership and wanted to create an "electronic newspaper"; he gave up on the idea when he realized it would be too expensive. Imagine if he'd had the foresight to see where the monster was heading....
But the real kill factor was this: powerful newspaper families (like the Binghams, like the Chandlers of Los Angeles) who used their influence to affect politics and public opinion were no longer sustainable: the old white moneyed folks refused to concede their control to outside players, hanging on despite what was happening in the world around them, a paradoxical equation. Case in point, in the mid-eighties, long after feminism had made inroads, Barry Bingham Jr wouldn't allow his sisters or mother to sit on the newspaper's board, which pissed off Sallie, and Sallie was one person you didn't want to piss. That one act eventually led to the downfall of the family's empire.
Is getting our news online so bad? No. But I love feeling the crinkled, slightly moist paper in the morning, picking it up off the porch and reading it while I'm having a cup of tea. I love turning the unwieldy pages, sitting with it, especially filling the gaps of what I know with new news, however abbreviated. I'd miss it if it were gone, but I might be fighting against a dying tide; newspapers are getting skinnier and skinnier and, as some predict, will one day disappear altogether. Murdoch anyone?
(photo credit: Tom Harjo)