The sad specter of a morning with no paper

October 06, 2005|By MARK FRANEK

I teach at a high school where the kids are bright, well-informed and politically astute. But most of them think that a newspaper is something you use to clean up after a dog or put beneath an open can of paint. They get most of their news from the Internet or from cable shows such as John Stewart's The Daily Show.

This is not altogether a bad thing. For example, this fall I will write college recommendations for about 10 seniors. One of them is an avid reader of the newspaper, but she rarely reads the printed version. She reads it online.

"Don't you hate it when the paper tells you that the story is `Continued on Page A6' or something?" says Ritu Arya, who lives in Philadelphia. "I never make it to Page A6. I always start reading other stories. The online version is much easier to read."

But for many mid-30s folks like me, even navigating simple Web sites presents a challenge. There is too much on-screen commotion, and I still click on things that can't be clicked. I much prefer newspapers that I can hold and fold - and occasionally save.

Most Americans with any sense of history have a box somewhere in their house that contains clippings of the most important news events of their lifetime - Kennedy assassinated; Man lands on the moon; Nixon resigns; Challenger explodes; Terrorists hit World Trade Center, Pentagon, thousands feared dead; Katrina wallops Gulf Coast.

Then there are the personal clippings, sometimes folded, often peeking out of scrapbooks or photo albums: a girl clutching a trophy or a ribbon; a boy carrying a football through a crowd of opposing players; a surname in a headline; a wedding announcement; a letter to the editor. For generations, newspapers have been providing proud artifacts for the books and crannies of America's homes.

It's worth noting during National Newspaper Week this week that newspapers serve many other purposes. In helping to maintain an informed citizenry, newspapers - the fourth estate - are the lifeblood of a strong democracy. "Our citizens may be deceived for awhile, and have been deceived," wrote Thomas Jefferson more than 200 years ago, "but as long as the presses can be protected, we may trust to them for light."

Where else but in America's respected daily newspapers can one expect to find the truth, or something darn close to it?

Jefferson also reminds us that "newspapers serve to carry off noxious vapors and smoke" - unless, of course, they are used to start a fire.

Unfortunately, newspapers are dying. Each year they lose more readers to the fierce undertow of the Web. Some folks believe that newspapers will be able to make the jump. I'm not so sure. Even if they do survive, I will miss the ink.

"I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world!" penned Walt Whitman over 100 years ago in his epic poem Leaves of Grass. Whitman also was a journalist for more than a dozen newspapers. His yawp could serve as the rallying cry for all people who care about newspapers.

I hope I never see the day that the paper stops coming. And nobody notices.

Mark Franek is the dean of students and teaches English at the William Penn Charter School in Philadelphia.

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