The demise of the print newspaper and local coverage

The Los Angeles Times has been an important source of stories, information, and opinions on trends related to poverty and inequality, but the recent announcement by the paper that it will stop printing the separate California section with local and state coverage does not bode well for the state of news and dialogue in Los Angeles. I’m not alone in this concern. Local officials and civic leaders are pleading with the Times to keep the section. LA City Councilman Eric Garcetti even started a Facebook group called Save the LA Times California Section, which now has nearly 1,500 members.

This move by the Times is of course part of a larger restructuring in journalism and the newspaper business, and it has forced me – a loyal subscriber for the 15 years – to consider ending my home subscription to this newspaper. While the Times of several years ago would take me hours to get through and would fill me with valuable information and analysis on both professional and personal interest issues, the latest incarnation leaves me unfulfilled. Microeconomic theory dictates that it should be entirely rational for me to part ways with the Times, but I still can’t seem to bring myself to make the call to cancel my subscription.

Where does this loyalty come from? Partly, it clearly remains a vital source of information for me on issues I care about. Perhaps more importantly, though, like many things in life, I think it can be explained by experiences and aspirations in my family life.

Some of my earliest memories of my childhood are of the local newspaper spread around the breakfast table, my parents and three older siblings looking through various sections of the paper. It’s something that stuck with me ever since. I’ve never been one to dash out in the morning to school or work without first satisfying my two addictions, coffee and the newspaper.

My therapist wife says my morning newspaper ritual is my method for “self-regulating” to maintain a relatively healthy mental state. My addiction was actually quite a source of domestic conflict early in our marriage, as my wife saw breakfast as a social time of conversation, something not possible while I read the Times. Eventually, she relented and became a loyal reader herself, certainly an important reason she has been integrated into my family so well. To this day, when my siblings and our families gather at my parents’ home, breakfast and newspaper-reading are one activity we still share in.

Like any two-worker family with kids, our household in the morning is somewhat chaotic. Preparing lunches and getting out the door with the kids, ages 9 and 5, in time for school so we can get to work is challenging enough. Making time to eat some breakfast and read at least the Main and California sections of the Times before getting out the door is even harder, but thankfully we manage to do it almost every day (though I should admit it becomes easier with every slimming-down of the newspaper!).

Over the last few years, I’ve noticed how the tradition is, rather unintentionally, getting passed on to our kids. The first thing they do almost every morning upon entering the kitchen is look for our area of the city on the weather map on the back of the California section and declare what the forecast is for the day. Our nine-year-old has begun to venture into the Sports and Calendar sections from time to time to see how his beloved Galaxy have done or to check on the latest blockbuster from Pixar. I’ve realized that this is why I haven’t been able to bring myself to cancel my subscription to the Times: it’s too important for helping my kids become literate, curious, and concerned members of our society.

Sure, we could get our news for free at latimes.com and other websites (and I do). But reading on a computer screen just doesn’t hold a candle to reading a newspaper or book in your hands. Moreover, in this era of text messaging and quick-snippet communication, we risk creating a generation of young people who don’t know how to read or write analytically. I believe newspapers remain an important component in our social, civic and educational fabric. They help us understand what’s happening in our community and what valiant people are doing to improve it. To the decision makers at the Times, I implore you: please do not gut this paper any more. Our kids and community are counting on you.

Published by Bill

Social justice advocate and collaborative leader

3 thoughts on “The demise of the print newspaper and local coverage

  1. Great post, Bill and terrific blog.

    As a 30 year subscriber to the LA Times I feel your pain and I’ve been blogging about this same subject although more from an environmental perspective.
    http://creativegreenius.wordpress.com/2009/01/15/headless-body-in-topless-bar/

    I also share your morning habit of starting my day with the paper – in my case three papers, the LAT, the local Daily Breeze and the voice of the evil empire, the WSJ.

    They are all a lesser version of what they once were and they are all failing the public.

    I strongly agree with Eric Pooley who recently wrote a brilliant analysis of this for Harvard in which he said, “The media’s decision to play the stenographer role helped opponents of climate action stifle progress.”
    You can download his paper here:

    Click to access d49_pooley.pdf

    I’m afraid the papers we’ve loved and read for all these years at the kitchen table are gone and what we’re left with is a sad, small imitation of a once great resource.

    It may be time for us both to get a Kindle…

  2. This has also hit the Kansas City Star, which is combining its front page, Local/Opinion and Business sections starting today. I don’t know how I’ll cope. My dad always read the newspaper from front to back. So, in order to make sure I didn’t have to fight him for a section, I got in the habit of reading it back to front. I started with the Sports section, followed by the Business section, Local/Opinion section and finally the front page. Or perhaps I just enjoyed reading about sports first thing in the morning, before having to encounter the “real world.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s