Yesterday, in my discussion of knowing details or looking them up, I commented in passing that we can now look pretty much anything up online. This ties into another Washington Post article, about how newspapers are starting to eliminate stock quotes from the paper. After all, there are many places online where one can go to look up stock quotes, and one gets all the information one needs that way, including up-to-the-hour information, the ability to get charts for any issue one would like, and many other features impossible to provide in an on-your-doorstep-before-dawn newspaper. Why, indeed, should they bother?
But if that's the question, then the extension to that question is, "Why need newspapers exist at all?" After all, the news itself is stale by the time we spill our coffee on the paper, and we can choose, online, to read not just our local issue but essentially any newspaper in the world. I used to know people who didn't want to leave D.C. or New York because they didn't want to give up the Washington Post or the New York Times, but now we can read both, and the Boston Globe and the Chicago Tribune and the Miami Herald and the Denver Post and the San Francisco Chronicle, all with a few clicks of the mouse. And why limit ourselves to the US? We can check out Le Monde (Paris) and El Mundo (Madrid) as we awaken to greet the world. Most have an RSS feed, making it even easier to keep up, and if you like a cool presentation, there's the "front pages" map from newseum.org.
So, apart from giving us something to line the bird cage with, what purpose do newspapers serve now? Why, indeed, should they bother at all?
They should bother because there's value in retaining a venerated communication medium. There's just nothing like holding a newspaper in hand and reading it, despite the newspaper ink that gets all over your fingers. There's something about the skill of folding a newspaper so you can read it while standing on a packed New York City subway train during rush hour, holding the paper with one hand and grasping a bar (we still call them "straps", though they haven't actually been straps for a while) for support with the other. Look around, and see all the people reading the ridiculous headlines in the New York Post. Open your door in the morning in the suburbs, and find which bush the newspaper was thrown into today (and what Bush has done that the newspaper is reporting on today).
No, I would not like to see the newspaper disappear, though I, too, get most of my news from National Public Radio on the drive to work, and from the web sites and RSS feeds. There are times when a newspaper is the right thing. Elimination of the stock quotes makes sense, but I fear it's only a first step. And I would not like to see the newspaper disappear.
Besides, it's sub-optimal if you spill your coffee on your laptop.