It’s a truism in this country that newspapers are dying. On one level, it makes absolute sense. A newspaper is a physical artifact: it must be manufactured, distributed, and sold before you read it. That one can still buy a weekday News or Post for fifty cents is a modern miracle. In contrast, electronic media are available instantly, often at no incremental cost, given that one has Internet access or cable TV.
And even in the newsprint arena, traditional newspapers are in trouble. New York City has three major traditional English-language newspapers and two throwaway dailies, distributed for free at subway stations and from streetcorner boxes. I’m sure the throwaways make money, or else they would simply disappear.
Alas, the throwaways and the electronic media don’t satisfy. They report on the day’s events; they have pictures; they tell us about tomorrow’s weather. But something essential is missing, at least for me.
Most of the media tell us what happened, when it happened, and who did it. Sometimes they delve into how something happened. But they don’t tell us why, or what the consequences might be, so that we could anticipate, and possibly prepare for, what might happen next.
When I read the paper, I skim the news and then head for the editorial page. I study the editorials and the op-ed pieces. I don’t agree with everything, but that’s part of the charm. When I encounter a columnist I’d like to throw rotten tomatoes at, I seek to understand his argument: what’s actually wrong with it?
Editorials in the throwaways are a sometimes thing, and they don’t run op-eds. And none of the other media seem to hit my news analysis spot. Newsmagazines like Time and Newsweek come out once a week, dwell on whatever they care to, and last maybe thirty minutes. Opinion magazines are generally on one side of the fence or the other. Cable television news has nuggets of analysis, but how do you find them? Sometimes a TV news program will analyze an issue in detail, but generally after an issue has been open for a month or so. And too much on TV is event reporting or yammering talking heads.
I’m sure I’m in the minority here, wanting not just to find out, but to understand. But what happens if, collectively, we don’t want to understand anymore?