Let's Reminisce: In praise of newspapers

By Jerry Lincecum
Special to the Herald Democrat

Having grown up in a family of readers who subscribed to numerous newspapers and magazines, I am saddened to see the internet and social media having such a devastating effect on print publications of all kinds. I was fortunate to have a grandfather and uncle in our household who kept us supplied with a daily newspaper plus a couple of weekly local papers, as well as numerous magazines like the Saturday Evening Post, Reader’s Digest, and Time. On a few occasions I also sold the Grit newspaper and collected magazine subscriptions to earn money or receive rewards.

Digesting all this reading material and hearing the stories discussed on a regular basis prepared me to succeed in school, and also helped make me the valedictorian of my high school class, resulting in my attending Texas A&M tuition-free. My grades in college (largely based on reading and writing skills) earned me a generous fellowship for graduate study that resulted in my acquiring a Ph.D. in English at the age of 25.

Then after forty years of teaching college students to read critically and write with skill, I retired happily to pursue volunteer work and spend time helping out-of-school adults to write their life stories.

I do not believe that the time today’s youth spend on Facebook, their cell phones, and other social media enables them to develop even a small fraction of the reading and writing ability that I gained from newspapers and magazines during my childhood and adolescence. Now let’s consider briefly the history of newspapers, drawing upon Wikipedia as my primary source.

Newspapers can cover a wide variety of fields, such as politics, business, sports and art, and they often include a wide range of materials such as opinion columns, weather forecasts, reviews of local services, obituaries, birth notices, crossword puzzles, editorial cartoons, comic strips, and advice columns.

Most newspapers are businesses, and they pay their expenses with a mixture of subscription revenue, newsstand sales, and advertising revenue. The journalism organizations that publish newspapers are themselves often called newspapers. Newspapers have traditionally been published in print (usually on cheap, low-grade paper called newsprint). However, today most newspapers are also published on websites as online newspapers, and some have even abandoned their print versions entirely. Newspapers arose in the 17th century, as information sheets for merchants. By the early 19th century, many cities in Europe, as well as North and South America, published newspapers.

In 2005, there were approximately 6,580 daily newspaper titles in the world selling 395 million print copies a day (in the U.S., 1,450 titles selling 55 million copies). The global recession that occurred in the late 2000s-early 2010, combined with the rapid growth of free web-based alternatives, has caused a decline in advertising and circulation, resulting in many papers having to retrench operations to cope with the losses.

Worldwide annual revenue approached $100 billion in 2005-7, then plunged during the financial crisis of 2008-9. Revenue in 2016 fell to only $53 billion, hurting every major publisher as their efforts to gain online income fell far short of the goal.

The decline in advertising revenues has affected print and online papers, as well as all other media. Print advertising was once lucrative but has greatly declined, and the prices of online advertising are often lower than those of their print precursors. Besides remodeling advertising, the internet (especially the web) has also challenged the business models of the print-only era. In particular, the number of local newspapers has declined significantly and the number of journalists employed has shrunk. If you are fortunate enough to have a local newspaper, count yourself lucky.

Jerry Lincecum

Jerry Lincecum is a retired Austin College professor who now teaches classes for older adults who want to write their life stories. He welcomes your reminiscences on any subject: jlincecum@me.com.