Newspapers have become a dying breed. I grew up to the news of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Richard Rodriguez became a reader of the San Francisco Chronicle in high school. How will newspapers end up?
We will end up with one and a half cities in America—Washington, D.C., and American Idol. We will all live in Washington, D.C., where the conversation is a droning, never advancing, debate between “conservatives” and “liberals.” We will not read about newlyweds. We will not read about the death of salesmen. We will not read about prize Holsteins or new novels. We are a nation dismantling the structures of intellectual property and all critical apparatus. We are without professional book reviewers and art critics and essays about what it might mean that our local newspaper has died. We are a nation of Amazon reader responses (Moby Dick is “not a really good piece of fiction”—Feb. 14, 2009, by Donald J. Bingle, Saint Charles, Ill.—two stars out of five). We are without obituaries, but the famous will achieve immortality by a Wikipedia entry.
As a pre-high schooler I delivered the local newspaper door-to-door, devoured the Post-Distpatch, disdained the weight of the Globe-Democrat, feared the dreary columns of the New York Times, but I read everything I could find, including our World Book Encyclopedia and the ingredients on a can of pork and beans. Life changes. So changes the life of newspapers to the death of newspapers. Rodriguez in Harper’s:
In the growling gray light (San Francisco still has foghorns), I collect the San Francisco Chronicle from the wet steps. I am so lonely I must subscribe to three papers—the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle. I remark their thinness as I climb the stairs. The three together equal what I remember.
What has change wrought?