Read On, Dude

TO WIT

November 13, 1994|By DAVE BARRY

Here in the newspaper industry we are seriously worried Newspaper readership is declining like crazy. In fact, there's a good chance that nobody is reading this column. I could write a pornographic sex scene here and nobody would notice.

"Oh Dirk," moaned Camille as she writhed nakedly on the bed. "Yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yessssssssss!"

"Wait up!" shouted Dirk. "I'm still in the bathroom!"

It was not always this way. There was a time in America when everybody read newspapers. Big cities had spunky lads standing on every street corner shouting "extra!" These lads weren't selling newspapers: They just shouted "extra!" because they wanted to irritate people, and boomboxes had not been invented yet.

But the point is that in those days, most people read newspapers, whereas today, most people do not. What caused this change?

One big factor is that people are a lot stupider than they used to be, although we here in the newspaper industry would never say so in print.

Certainly another factor is that many people now get their news from television.

But if we want to identify the "root cause" of the decline in newspaper readership, I believe we have to point the finger of blame at the decision by many newspapers to stop running the comic strip "Henry." Remember Henry? The bald boy who looks like Dwight Eisenhower? I believe that readers liked the "Henry" strip because, in times of change and uncertainty, it always had the same plot:

Panel one: Henry is walking along the street. He is wearing shorts, even if it is winter.

Panel two: Suddenly, Henry spies an object. Often the object is a pie cooling on a windowsill. (Pies are always cooling on windowsills on the planet where Henry lives.)

Panel three: Things get really wacky as Henry eats the pie.

Panel four: The woman who baked the pie comes to the window and discovers that -- prepare to roll on the floor -- the pie is gone. The woman is surprised. You can tell because exclamation points are shooting out of her head.

This timeless humor has been delighting readers for thousands of years, but for some reason, a while back most newspapers stopped running the strip, and readership has been in the toilet ever since. I don't think it's a coincidence.

Whatever the cause, the readership decline is producing major underarm dampness here in the newspaper industry. We're especially concerned about the fact that we're losing young readers. We're desperate to attract these readers. Go to any newspaper today and you'll see herds of editors pacing around, mooing nervously, trying to think up ways to make newspapers more relevant to today's youth culture. This is pretty funny if you know anything about newspaper editors, the vast majority of whom are middle-aged, Dockers-wearing white guys.

But they're trying. If you read your newspaper carefully, you'll notice that you're seeing fewer stories with uninviting headlines like Panel Nixes Trade Pact, and more "with-it" headlines like Panel Nixes Trade Pact, Dude.

I applaud this effort, and as a middle-aged, Dockers-wearing white guy, I want to do my part by making my column more "hep." So I'm going to conclude by presenting the views of some students of Daniel Kennedy's English class at Clearfield (Pa.) Area High School. I recently wrote a column in which I said that some young people today have unattractive haircuts and don't know who Davy Crockett was. Mr. Kennedy's class read this column and wrote me letters in response; here are some unretouched excerpts, which I am not making up:

*"Maybe one of these days, you should look in the mirror, Dave. Dave, you need a new hairstyle, man! You have a puffcut, Dave."

*"Without hair I think every guy in the world would just die of imbarresment. I know I would, but I am a girl."

*"You say that I don't no any thing about Davy Crockett. Well I no that he fought at the Alamo. He also played in several movies."

Let me just say that we in the newspaper industry totally agree with you young people on these points and any other points you wish to make, and if you will please please please start reading the newspaper we'll be your best friend, OK? OK? Young people? Hello?

You're not even reading this, you little twerps.

"Oh, Dirk," moaned Camille, "I am overcome by desire at the sight of your . . . your . . . What do you call those?"

"Dockers," said Dirk.

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