by Neena Strichart
My Baby Boomer generation grew up experiencing newspapers as truly black and white and read all over. There were no such things as color pictures or ads in our papers. Local newspapers were the only way for our folks to truly garner local information, and we kids knew it. Bothering our parents while they read the morning or evening paper was more than a “no no,” it was a guaranteed spanking waiting to happen! Sundays were the only exceptions. We waited patiently for Mom and/or Dad to finish perusing the news, then, and only then, we kids would be allowed to approach while one of them would read us the “funny pages.” Oh, how we longed for the day we could read those comic strips for ourselves. Ah, independence was just around the corner!
The newspaper also held other wonders for us kids– the television program schedule for our local channels, all seven of them…2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11 and 13 were right there to help guide us through our after-school or weekend-favorite programs. Besides the small screen, we knew that movie theatre listings were printed within those daily delivered pages. If we were lucky we’d catch a glimpse of Dad checking out those listings and know that we were in for a night at the drive-in movies, no doubt decked out in our pajamas. Other than entertainment, most of us kids found little use for newspapers… that is until were a little older and our teachers started asking us to bring in clippings for “current events.”
Fast-forward to 2012. We Baby Boomers now receive our news through many avenues we never even dreamed of as children. Not even being fans of the futuristic cartoon series The Jetsons would prepare us for what was to come. Internet websites, Twitter, Facebook, blogs and other immediate non-printed media sources are now the norm. Smartphones, tablets, pads and laptops allow modern consumers to keep up with the news of the moment. Although newspapers, television stations, and radio programs are still quite important means of news gathering, they have had to change their business models in order to stay relevant.
Advertisers have found themselves confused, as the choice between the traditional and the modern means of reaching consumers is a nearly impossible choice to make. The more traditional avenues continue to be expensive compared to some online options yet are still quite fruitful. With the downturn of the economy, most business owners want to make sure that their hard-earned advertising dollars are well spent and spend those dollars where they are guaranteed to reach their target markets. Small businesses rely on a very tight circle of consumers– mostly from those who live within a three- to five-mile radius of those businesses. Those who advertise with media outlets that report with a hyper-local focus usually reap the benefit of that more localized approach. Newspapers that strive to use a non-biased reporting formula combined with a hyper-local focus, in my opinion, will continue to thrive. Combining those ideas with up-to-the-minute technology will be the standard for successful publishers in the future.
What will that look like? It will fuse the most ultra-modern technical possibilities with the most basic of printed pages. Much like the pen vs. the typewriter, most of us use a keyboard of some sort on a daily basis yet still have the desire to write messages by hand. By the same token, I believe we will always long to hold a newspaper, magazine or book in our hands. We are a tactile nation, not just a visual one. We crave the touch. Nostalgia or melancholy will also speak to us as we will continue to squirrel away newspaper clippings of good deeds, marriages and birth announcements as well as obituaries.
History demands that we continue to print, lest we fall into the trap of revisionism warned by George Orwell in his book 1984. Or, maybe a more convincing argument would be to quote the third president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson: “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate for a moment to prefer the latter.”