I seldom do more than skim the sports pages, but a fascinating New York Times feature on and photo of a 44-year-old Colorado athlete described “as the grand paladin of high-altitude distance running” caught my eye (he holds record times for scaling Pikes Peak and has a resting heart rate lower than Michael Phelps, in case you’re wondering). A front-page Wall Street Journal take-out on New Zealand research to reduce the gas from belching in sheep (“mutton methane”) provided a novel look at the global warming problem.
The Connecticut woman mauled by a friend’s crazed pet chimp drew international coverage, but there was far more local color and detail in her hometown paper (and mine), The Stamford Advocate. I actually stayed up much of the night in Paris to watch the Oscars, but I still loved reading days later about the debate in India over best picture Slumdog Millionaire, as well as fashion commentary on Penelope Cruz’s ivory, Cinderella-like vintage Balmain gown.
It’s not an either-or question, of course. During my trip, I tried to keep up on the news (albeit somewhat perfunctorily) by checking favorite Web sites, Google e-mail alerts, Twitter, CNN on cable, and the occasional International Herald Tribune. So I already knew the basics about Obama’s speech to Congress and the increasingly sorry state of the stock market. (I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that I even Tweeted about the Oscars during the live show with a worldwide community of Twitterers.)
But all that still had a somewhat anodyne feel compared to the experience of reading about them in my own newspapers. And I wonder if those who grew up reading no paper papers whatsoever sometimes miss the unexpected, by limiting their consumption to those stories compiled by hyper-targeted news aggregators, or posted on sites that “preach to the converted,” reinforcing their visitors’ existing views and preferences. Of course, readers have donned “news blinders” since ink was first set to paper. But more and more these days I’m recognizing an odd paradox: those innovations that can immeasurably broaden one’s world view can also immeasurably narrow it.
My family subscribes to five daily newspapers. It’s our way of showing support for the beleaguered industry, at a time when the survival of so many U.S. newspapers is threatened. Unlike the winning “slumdog” movie contestant in the Indian version of Who Wants to Be A Millionaire, American newspapers today have unfortunately used up most of their lifelines. The “fifty-fifty” elimination has already gotten rid of much of the competition, and publishers haven’t had much luck recently in phoning a friend for an infusion of new funds or asking the audience for help.
In order to make it to the next round, newspapers are going to have to keep struggling for relevance and developing new models to survive in this evolving multimedia world. In the meantime, I’ll keep cheering them on by buying, reading, and recycling those towers of newsprint, and encouraging others to do the same. (And, yes, I get the irony of hand-wringing about the fate of newspapers on a Web site.) Hopefully, there is room for all.