However you feel about the election this past week, it’s unlikely that you’re one of the small group actively taking part in protests against Donald Trump’s election or campaigning to get rid of the Electoral College. It’s silly and fruitless. The Donald chuckles at such impotence.
I’m a journalist, but the sort who keeps his political opinions fairly private. I don’t donate to political campaigns and haven’t registered to vote in primaries. One thing I’m not shy about, though, is standing up to thugs. I’m not calling President Elect Trump one, by the way. He hasn’t even taken the oath of office yet. I can tell you, though, that one thing that actually gets under his skin happens to be the same one that bothers authoritarian heads of state and corrupt businessmen worldwide: a free and vibrant press
In China or Russia or Turkey or Africa that often results in newspapers being shut down or even journalists getting murdered. Here, so far, we have disgusting antisemitic tweets, scary chants at rallies, and a threat by Trump to “open up our libel laws” and sue the media into submission.
Despite all that, the main threat to the American media, and dare I say democracy, is apathy. You’ve probably heard that about 100 million people – far more than those who cast a ballot for either Trump or Clinton – simply didn’t vote. But what about the people who didn’t read a newspaper or support one? The reason so many people you and I know are shocked by Trump’s victory in the face of a mountain of concerns about his past conduct, his personality, and his agenda is that we relied on ethical, trusted sources of information about him. But, according to Pew, just 21% of people ages 35-44 read a newspaper yesterday, down from 44% in 1999. Just 18% of Hispanics of any age did.
Many people, perhaps including you, read a newspaper article reached from a link on social media today but didn’t read another article in the same paper. And you probably didn’t pay for it. The total circulation revenue of all U.S. newspapers in 2014 was just $10.9 billion. It’s now just half of the sales of Starbucks. Between 2006 and 2014 the number of people employed in print journalism fell from 55,000 to 32,900. It’s probably below 30,000 now. Just this past week dozens of people in my newsroom lost their jobs and two sections were discontinued while two others were merged. The result is a thinner paper.
Do you subscribe to a newspaper or do you just graze on whatever is free on the Internet? Do you subscribe to more than one? Well here’s something you can do that will drive Donald Trump up the wall. You can do it right now at the expense of giving up a few cappuccinos a month or waiting a little longer to upgrade to that snazzy new iPhone: subscribe to an old-fashioned print newspaper.
Yes, this is what feeds my family, but it isn’t an act of charity and you don’t have to subscribe to The Wall Street Journal. Buy The New York Times or The Washington Post or your local paper. You won’t just be making a political statement.
Reading a print paper instead of zeroing in on the specific article you want to read on your phone or computer leads you to read all sorts of other articles you weren’t looking for but are glad you found. You don’t get that kind of serendipity in your targeted Facebook news feed or even a digital newspaper app. You’re also getting something hand-delivered to your house that’s an amazing daily undertaking put together by people who could be earning more in a different job and who take a lot of infuriating crap doing it. Even though I don’t write about politics, I get all sorts of nasty comments when I write something people don’t like, disparaging me or my profession, putting “journalist” in quotes. We get called the “lying media” and worse. And yes, of course, the result isn’t perfection. But what a newsroom full of journalists produces is a wonder. I think the British critic AA Gill said it best:
Newspapers are the size of long novels.They’re put together from around the globe from sources who want to lie, to manipulate, to sell things, hide things, spin things. Despite threats, injunctions, bullets, jails and non-returned phone calls,journalists do it every single day, from scratch. What’s amazing, what’s utterly staggering, is not the things papers get wrong, it’s just how much they get right.
Come on, make a statement by going retro and reading a paper or two made out of dead trees.