My dad died less than a month ago (here is our tribute site to dad) and my sisters and I have been going through the house and his belongings. Besides removing anything of value and cleaning the place out, we have a relative staying there who also has uncovered some cool stuff like this old newspaper in a crawl space which I saw and went through yesterday. Dated Friday, April 2, 1982, it was the last of the Minneapolis Star evening editions which was then merged in to the morning paper to make today’s Minneapolis StarTribune.
Paging through this yellowed rag brought back a lot of memories of the role this newspaper played in our lives and yet it was another reminder of how the old makes way for the new. People, and information delivery methods, all outlive our usefulness as direct economic contributors. The history of mass media shows how the first “high circulation” newspaper was the London Times in the early 1800s, so the major daily newspaper is but a blip in the timeline of humanity.
Thankfully, as evidenced by how wonderful it was for my dad to be around for twenty five years after he retired at 62 years of age, dad’s influence and ‘usefulness’ to everyone around him continued on.
But back to newspapers. A lot has been written about the demise of ‘traditional’ media like TV, radio, magazines and newspapers. Most of us are aware that things are downtrending, some magazines have gone to digital only, and clearly newspapers are struggling.
In Pew Research’s The State of News Media 2013, the tiny bit of optimism that digital is growing is, in my mind, far outweighed by the continuing decline in advertising revenue. Even though digital advertising is rising, it cannot make up for the horrific losses from the print editions:
Struggling just as much are local TV, radio and other media affiliates. In this Minnesota market we have news options from WCCO, KSTP, Fox9, and KARE. We also have the St. Paul Pioneer Press (which smartly dubbed their online property, “TwinCities.com” to include their crosstown rival, Minneapolis). Though I don’t have numbers, graphs or charts about any of these I can tell you one thing that comes from a few news producers at two of these stations: their audiences are composed primarily of “blue haired” seniors since “anyone under 40 years of age” isn’t watching the news.
While “only blue hairs” is a sweeping generalization, just observe the ads that play during the national broadcaster’s evening news (e.g., ads for Viagra, arthritis medications) and the local affiliate advertisements are along these same lines. It’s also why there have been so many cutbacks in highly paid news anchors here and across the nation…there just isn’t enough advertising money generated to sustain those levels.
Though seeing newspapers die is a sad sight to behold, if we lose investigative journalism who will report the critical stories and where will they be published? Stories like Edward R. Murrow and Fred W. Friendly’s 1954 investigation for CBS‘s See It Now of Senator Joseph McCarthy witch-hunt for ‘communists’, Seymour Hersh‘s stories on the My Lai massacre or Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein‘s reporting on the Watergate break-in? If there isn’t enough ad revenue to pay for the time it takes for in-depth, long-term reporting—and a place to mass publish it—how and where will that happen?
In any event this was not meant to be an analysis of newspapers or the overall media business. Seeing this last edition of The Minneapolis Star made me think about the loss of my dad, change that has occurred in the Twin Cities, the meaning a daily newspaper had in our lives while I was growing up, and what the future might hold for all of us when it comes to our receipt of news and information.