The 21st century will soon see the death of the daily newspaper. By the time a newspaper hits the stand, driveway, or mailbox, it is out of date – done in by the speed of light. With the proliferation of cable TV news, the Internet, and apathy, the daily newspaper is going to be a thing of the past in the near future. Sure, more Americans read newspapers than ever before, but there are more Americans than ever before. What will probably happen is many newspapers will become almost magazine like – publishing only one, two, or three times a week. Fridays, Sundays, and Mondays would be best, but the fact remains that this institution of American Democracy signals a change in how we get our information. It signals that the economy of 2009 has hit every home and it finally shows that the business model used in the 1900s is completely out of date for the 2000s. No longer is advertising in the paper seen as a positive for a business, a business can now make its own website for a fraction of the cost it would take to advertise frequently in the newspaper. Also, if newspapers are giving the content away for free on the Internet, why buy the paper in the first place? In history, America has always relied on the newspaper and it has captured history as well as influenced history and made history.
Beginning in 1690, the American newspaper was born. In a time of travel by horse and communication by letters, the newspaper was an essential communication tool for a young America. Citizens were informed of local events and kept in touch with what was happening beyond the confines of their corner of the colonies. In the 1700s, the paper evolved into a tool for prognostication (Almanacs) and it played a vital role in the Revolution. Papers published opinions, editorial cartoons and other miscellaneous information about the issues of the day. Tomas Jefferson believed that newspapers were the source of information every American citizen should be able to read to find out what their government was doing. He states:
- Information is the currency of democracy.
- No government ought to be without censors; and where the press is free no one ever will.
- Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.
- Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe.
As the 1800s came into being, citizens were enthralled with tales of going west. Many classic books were first published in serial form throughout the century. Stories of heroes, villains, and the wars kept an American public connected. The Civil War was influenced as newspapers took decidedly partisan tones. The Chicago Tribune’s editor Joseph Medil even helped to get Abraham Lincoln the nomination in Chicago in 1860. As the century wore on, two rival newspaper magnets, Hearst and Pulitzer, even played a large role in the starting the Spanish-American War to sell more newspapers. Hearst was known to have said, “You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war.”
The twentieth century saw the dominance of larger newspapers and had become basically advertisement driven. The new forms of technology and sport, movies and music, and politics as usual. Newspapers captured our highest highs and lowest lows. Newspapers captured the Stock Market Crash of 1929, World War II, the Cold War, Watergate, Vietnam, the Kennedy Assassination, and a Man on the Moon. But the death of the newspaper started the first day radio went nationwide in the 1920s. It died a little more when television appeared in full steam in the 1950s. It died even more when the Internet dropped into most American’s homes by 1995. Over the last 15 years, it has been on its last legs. As companies and corporations spread to the web, so too did news organizations. For many, the Internet is the first thing fired up in the morning. No longer is breakfast served with a newspaper but rather a laptop or blackberry. As Americans change their habits so too does America. The massive supply of media through satellite television and cable television has changed how we also get our news. Everything comes into our homes now at the speed of light. Newspapers do not.
I remember as a young adult fresh out of college in the mid 80s, one of my greatest gratifications was opening the front door and picking up the daily paper and catching up what I had missed the day and night before. Now, I can come home and just plop open the laptop and the world is at my click. Somehow, getting the ink on my hands seems so nostalgic, but also so unnecessary. As the newspaper slowly fade, I do not know if they will all go down the way of the dinosaur, but it is close. As for whether American Democracy will fade it with it…I seriously doubt it. Americans are a curious lot. We have a desire to know more…to know a lot…and to seek out and find that information. The problems lies in this: Who is going to control the flow of information? Government, coprorations, or the People?