By Arthur Henry Gunther III
Since printing began and the first sheets of paper brought information to the masses, newspapers could count on people buying enough copies to keep the profession going; to support advertisers; to hold circulation stable; most of all to protect democracy by reporting and commenting on the news. Now there are too few readers, and the republic is in jeopardy.
The Computer Age and the Internet, the smart phone, video games and the many morphings of television all snatch concentration away from people, who seem busier than ever with seemingly endless schedules. There are fewer lunches spent with a newspaper; fewer evenings after dinner in an easy chair with the editorial page and columnists; fewer open pages of The Daily This or That spread across the kitchen table.
The constantly-on computer and its search engines are the prime information sources now. In just seconds, news is read in headlines and short paragraphs, barely digested. Photographs and other images steal viewer time, reducing the brain’s word count. And “fake news” spreads like the plague it us.
Yet, the Computer Age, with its great but flawed ability to offer “facts” and commentary so quickly; to spread such information around the globe; and to keep it in reference form that eventually can expose the wrong-doers does present an opportunity to add to individual knowledge and so empower us to self-educate. And since education leads to questioning, the hope is that the Internet’s ever more vast store of words, data and images will make our younger people in particular more like the newspaper readers of other years — those who question, those who think.
What we all must do, whether we are the kind who grew up with three newspapers a day in the house seven days a week or if we are online perusers of news, is to support information delivery. Buy newspapers. Read them. Call up the Internet but truly seek information and understand it, and then question. The “who, what, when, where, why and how” must be satisfied. And if there is no “why” or “how,” if any key word in the pursuit of a free and open press is missing, we must let the media know and demand answers.
Otherwise, the free press will lose the ammunition it needs to keep us safe from individuals and groups seeking to control information for their own anti-democratic purposes. What a terrible, creeping danger that is today.
The writer is a retired newspaperman. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com or 845 548 7378.