Friday, February 17, 2006

RedEye syndrome: the downfall of newspapers

Newspapers, they say, are slowly dying.

And it should be obvious why: the rise of web sites, blogging, competition for attention growing more and more fierce. After all, who wants to slog through a inch-thick stack of newsprint when they can pop on to and get news now. And it's free.

I read an article about how the Chicago Tribune is using a free, "edgy" publication called RedEye (I saw and read it while I was there) to attract the younger and commuter crowd. It's free, and it highlights fashion, pop culture, trends, celebrities, etc. - with a few wire reports thrown in.

The writer raised the question: Is it okay to sacrifice newspaper readership to "hipper" papers like RedEye?

What I want to know is - are the kids learning anything?

Most of RedEye is filled with celebrity gossip and trendy styles, not news. Given the two, which do you think the average 20-something will go for?

I wonder what they should go for.

As a newspaper guy, I mourn the loss of newspaper readership. Forget TV, forget radio - there is nothing that can cover local events and happenings like your hometown newspaper (forget national news - everyone does that). You get local voices on local issues, and pictures to boot.

But now some web sites are siphoning the very purpose newspapers used to fulfill: that of a bulletin board where community groups and companies, politicians, even the yokels, can post their thoughts and aspirations on the printed page. Now? You have the bulletin board called "message board" or "comments section" (like you all leave comments right here).

Nothing, however, can beat the portability of the newspaper. Sure, you can drag your laptop around to some WiFi station and log on to catch the latest breaking story. But that assumes you own a computer. For the everyman/woman, the newspaper is a bit more affordable.

I liked RedEye, because it filled a particular niche. It had good design, and some semi-interesting stories, and a great "What's Happening This Weekend" section, perfect for out-of-towners like myself.

But I don't think it should be the only thing kids are reading. No where but the newspaper are you going to get in-depth analysis and investigation.

Remember that journalism serves as a watchdog against government excesses and stupidity. If everyone's reading about Angelina and Brad, no one's paying attention to the dopes running Washington. And that's a very bad thing.

After all - if no one cares, they will be free to do what they want.

Even my workday revolves around reading the newspaper. I scan it mostly to see if the credit union made it in a headline, or to see one of our ads, or to check and see what the competition is doing. But I also get to know my community in a way no other source can let me.

Sure, pick up a RedEye. But also grab the Tribune, and see what the heck is really going on.

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