One of my most vivid memories of working at big-city newspapers is the smell of fresh newsprint and ink, early in the morning, on the loading docks and in the stairwells. As a young journalist, feeling like even the smallest cog in those noisy printing presses was a thrill.
So, this Saturday morning (Feb. 1, 2020) will seem mighty strange. My newspaper carrier, Nora, won’t bring the Idaho Statesman to my front porch as she has for years.
I’m glad she gets a day off. But there won’t be a paper to enjoy with my coffee. The Statesman will only be available online on Saturdays now. I'll have to stare at a screen or my phone to read it.
I guess it’s no surprise – already, the local paper is so tiny most days that I’m embarrassed for the bare-bones staff. I used to enjoy freelancing there, and I’ve kept my subscription mostly as an act of faith.
In an optimistic explanatory piece on Jan. 26, Statesman Editor Christina Lords confirmed what we already know – revenues have dropped drastically as advertisers flock to social media and online mega-sites. It costs money to print and deliver a paper. It’s easier and cheaper to put it online.
But there’s so much more to this story. A Washington Post article this week by Taylor Telford cites a PEN America report that found about one in five newspapers in the United States has closed since 2004, and staff layoffs in the news industry total 47%.
The same report refers to at least 1,000 “ghost papers,” still in business but “so hobbled by cutbacks that they produce little original reporting.”
In a democracy, that’s the kind of ghost I’m truly scared of – whether it’s on my porch or my laptop screen.