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Thursday, May 23, 2024

The Defining Moments

Newspapers as we know them are dying. Print media outlets are decreasing production, declaring bankruptcy and retrenchingthe New York Times is the latest among many to announce layoffs. Last month, TIME even published a case for rescuing newspapers, so severe has the crisis become.

In many ways, the potential death of the newspaper signifies not only the death of a source of information, but the collapse of rational, refined thought. Without newspapers and journalistic reporting, society is in danger of atrophying. The cessation of newspapers is thus a threat to the very existence of America.

Newspapers are under assault because the Internet has reoriented our conventional conceptions about the access to content. Here, macro-forces and micro-details converge.

The macro-forces are the emergence of a serious competing alternative: the democratizing qualities of the Internet and the blogosphere, allied somewhat to visual television, have discouraged readers from paid print subscription.

The micro changes, meanwhile, involve a strategic failure to plan: the print media’s inability to find and develop a profitable business models in the changing circumstances. With the emergent competition, the media was required to remunerate writers for their expertise; so far, they have failed.

To be sure, the liberating values of the Internet and, in particular, the blogosphere, aren’t negatives in themselves. What is at stake, however, is quality writing and reporting. Quality writing is sustained clarity of mind coupled to eloquence of speech, while quality reporting is the presentation of events from perspectives that are novel, multiple, independent and rich. Both offer focus and vision; most importantly, they offer coherence. From these, readers make reasoned judgments, calibrating their choices and decisions using the best available information.

Newspapers are about informing, but it also is a function of influence. Information is not merely about transmission. It’s about deep emotional engagement. Newspapers report absent of emotion, but by the nature of their reporting, great emotions are often aroused. They report about human acts and, by extension, humanity. For the reader, hearing about fellow people’s heroic deeds, this inspires civic duty. It reminds one to remain vigilant at times of grave danger. Newspapers therefore shape attitudes and behavior.

The blogosphere is similarly about ambition; it demands intense, personal engagements that are visceral and real. But by virtue of its fundamental characterpersonal interpretation allied to profound emotionsit fails to capture the complexities and orthodoxies of events in their entirety. Instead, the blog is an acquaintance with bits and fragments of news. On the contrary, by their strides for balance, newspapers provide the entire view.

And newspapers, through editorial commentaries and columns, offer authenticity and authority. Like the blog, a column is also about opinion, but it is opinion customized from particular attention to detail and from deep, objective analysis. They seem radical and reactionary at times, yet their honesty and immediacy is what shapes mindsets. At their very best, great columns flatter hearts, deliver devastating verdicts, beg further questions, move people to action. By these virtues, columns are an institution.

Most critically, newspapers are the incubators of reactionary democratic ideals. They fundamentally check and balance society’s greatest sinexcess. Through vigorous reporting, newspapers can shame offenders, provoke outrages, correct behaviors. Newspapers enact justice and preserve the constitutional character of our behavior. They are the upholders of our liberty.

At times of crisis, we sometimes realize what is truly meaningful to us, what we have been taking for granted but magnifies in importance when under danger. The threat to newspapers, where they could cease to exist in relevance, is one of these moments. The newspaper is America’s unsung institution, exposing what is inefficient and glorifying what is redeeming. Most importantly, newspapers regenerate our minds, souls and spiritsit is the essence of our identity.


Thankfully, The Aggie is still publishing … express your gratitude to the editors through ZACH HAN at zklhan@ucdavis.edu


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